Saturday, May 12, 2018

Commas, Periods, and Dashes—Oh My!

I have been writing "professionally" for ten years—and am just now learning about em dashes.

Those of you with creative writing degrees, published by traditional houses, or edited by someone in the know, are probably laughing and saying, "Whaaaat?!?!"


But after sharing on Twitter my discovery of Microsoft Word's em dash "key", other writers revealed that—like me they'd either been winging it—or had no clue.

Say you're one of those writers? Splendid!

How did we function without em dashes?

I used commas and periods. The commas are fine, being common writing practice. The periods? Well, let's just say they created a lot of trailing sentence fragments. With em dash—that extra long, hyphen-looking thingy—this no longer happens.

I must admit, though. I miss the choppy-sentence style.

In addition to em dashes, there are en dashes, used to denote sequences and such. This morning I got to replace several commas with en dashes in a listing of the items in a captain's log. Yeehaa!

No. Really. Who knew proper punctuation could be so exhilarating?


So how DO we type em and en dashes? (Hehehe save the blue ones for me.)

In MS Word, an em dash can be typed by pressing Ctrl+Alt+Minus. That's the MINUS key on the side numeric keyboard, NOT the hyphen key at the top of the main keyboard. An en dash is Alt+Minus.


While Ctrl+Alt+Minus works like a charm in the MS Word program, it doesn't work in many other places. Like Blogger and Twitter to name two.

Luckily, a Twitter writer-friend relayed this in a comment:

For an em dash type Alt+0151
For an en dash type Alt+0150

You can also get an em dash by typing double hyphens OR going to the insert symbol menu. I'll leave you to your own on those.

Courtesy Connie J. Jasperson
For a discussion on the proper usage of em and en dashes—which is a subject unto itself—I found these links helpful:

Chicago Manual of Style-Em Dashes

Get It Write-Em Dashes

When To Use and Not Use an Em Dash

Em Dash: Why Should You Love It?

As a fledgling em- and en-dasher, I'm sure it will take me a while to master these lovely punctuation marks. But I'm game, and hopefully this discussion will help you too.

~ That Rebel, Olivia J. Herrell, writing as O.J. Barré

P.S. I am back from a short writing break, beginning  four weeks ago when my brother-in-law suffered a stroke. He is home now, and still numb on his right side, needing 24/7 care. But the scariest part is over and his rehab is going well. Well enough that I can focus and write again, hallelujah!

O.J. Barré is author of the upcoming Awen trilogy, a rollicking fantasy set in 2042CE that combines current, ancient, and future history. Book One, Awen Rising, is complete and in query. Book Two, Awen Storm, is in early edits, and the first draft of Book Three, Awen Tide, is in process.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

On Endings

The first draft of AWEN STORM is finally finished, yeehaa! Truth told, it was done by November 31st, my self-imposed deadline.

I just didn’t know it at the time.

What took me so long to realize my draft was complete? And why did I dance around for the next eight weeks, forcing myself to keep writing?

Because I’m not all that good at endings.

I just don’t seem to have the knack—not at ending novels—or chapters in my life. My blog is littered with examples.

As an author who arrived at her craft in later years, I am still learning my writing process. Not your process. Not King’s or Hemingway’s. My process.

Yet even after uncovering my patterns and peculiarities, I tend to forget. Until one rears its head again.

My first effort happened to be a children’s book*. I loved writing Frank and Ernie Find Home, sitting at the PC for hours on end with a silly grin on my face. I had so much fun, I decided that book should be a series. Because—well—that ending thing.

My second was a women’s fiction (ye old chick-lit genre), which I abandoned before "The End". Why? Because to fit that mold, I believed Churches, Chickens & ChiChi's needed to be 80K words—I had bottomed out at 50K.

I missed that 50K is enough for a romance novel/la*. OUCH!

Book One of the Awen trilogy, Awen Rising, is 94K words. I initially wrote 15K past the natural ending. A year later, after beta readers groused about the cliffhanger, I finally understood I had gone too far. Luckily, Book Two begins where One ends, so the extra words/chapters were (mostly) recycled.

Now history repeats itself with Awen Storm.

In all fairness, my muse offered sign after sign that the first draft of Book Two was finished. But this writer misinterpreted, and so, missed them all.

For weeks.

I have since cut the extra chapters (9K words) from Book Two, typed "The End", and moved the chapters into Book Three, Awen Tide.

Two victories.

Even better—this time there was no duplication of effort, as in the transition from One to Two. Meaning, the glitches, the blocks, the walls, and the lessons I talked about last post, were shorter-lived.

Last time it took a whole year.

The takeaway?

After the Churches, Chickens & ChiChi's debacle, I learned that when it's time to type "The End", any new, shiny ideas I receive no longer fit. They are for a new novel—not the current one.

It's just harder to discern in the middle of a trilogy or series. 

~ That Rebel, Olivia J. Herrell, writing as O.J. Barré

*P.S. Yes, I do plan to dust off both novels—give the romance an ending—and publish.

P.P.S. Thank you for stopping by That Rebel. Please take a moment to drop a line in the comments below. Your words and thoughts matter.

O.J. Barré is author of the upcoming Awen trilogy, a rollicking fantasy set in 2042CE that combines current, ancient, and future history. Book One, Awen Rising, is complete and in query. Book Two, Awen Storm, is in early edits, and the first draft of Book Three, Awen Tide, is in process.


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