My First Novel and Killing Writing Myths

Hi Folks,

First, a salute to my brothers and sisters in the United States Marine Corps—Happy 239th birthday—and a respectful toast to our brothers and sisters in the other US armed forces as well as friends in the ROK Marines and the Corps of Royal Marines.

May your days be vibrant,
your evenings calm,
your heart safe and warm at home.

Okay, on to business.

As I write this, I just finished my first novel. It’s a short novel of just over 40,000 words. I won’t talk about how long it took but those who took my Writing Into the Dark intensive or online Audio Lecture already know.

Most notably, with the accomplishment of this personal goal, a few more writing myths died quick, painless deaths. That will be the main focus of this post so it’s all about You, the writers out there.

But first, if you’ll allow me, did I celebrate? Oh yes. I told the members of my writers’ group. (These are actual writers, mind you. Folks who put new words on the page pretty much every day.) Then I emailed Dean Wesley Smith, my unintentional mentor. Then I sent the manuscript to my first reader. Then I yelled Woohoo! Then I wrote this blog post to share the good news with You. 🙂 I learned SO much during this project. If it never sells a copy, it will still be more than worthwhile just as a learning experience.

So what writing myths died? Well,

  • I did NOT suffer withdrawal symptoms, which I’ve heard some writers actually call “post partum depression” (seriously?) from having finished a novel (ODG, it’s over! What now?);
  • I did NOT feel completely exhausted, arm-across-the-forehead, being-carried-from-the-stage spent (James Brown) like I need to take a day or a week or a month off now that I’ve finished (I felt only elation, actually, along with a touch of annoyance that my protagonist solved his problem without me and probably about 20,000 words before I expected him to);
  • I did NOT feel like I “owe myself” anything in particular beyond the celebratory stomps laid out above; and best (and biggest) of all,
  • I have absolutely NO desire to go back and re-read it, even for pleasure, much less for editing or rewriting or any of that. I’m following Heinlein’s Rules, baby. 🙂 If you want to learn Heinlein’s Rules, you can take my Writing Into the Dark Audio Lecture or you can even Google it. But if you Google it, chances are whoever put up the rules will add their “interpretation” (a bunch of pure crap) to them. Pare away all that and you’ll be fine. Just for grins, I’ve added them below (updated for today’s wonderful self-publishing revival). Yes, revival. You DO know that what we call “traditional publishing” has been around for only the last 70 years of human history, right? As my buddy Denise says, Truedat.

Finally, I woke up this morning thinking Yikes! What if that was just the ending of Part I? Well, it IS true that I had hoped to accompany the protagonist to Mexico, but

  1. I’ve already spouted off to everyone I know that I’m finished and
  2. I can party with him in Mexico just as easily in a second novel as I can by accompanying him across the border in the current story.
  3. Plus, if I write a sequel, I’ll have TWO novels out there instead of just one. Remember awhile back I said the best way to market your work is to write more stuff and put it out there?

So that’s what I’m doing next: writing another story, another novel, another whatever. Just Writing. After all, I’m a writer, and Writers Write. Right? Right! (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) 🙂

Here are Heinlein’s Rules. If you want to know what they mean, read them again or take my Audio Lecture.

  1. You must write.
  2. You must finish what you write.
  3. You must not rewrite.
  4. You must put it on the market so someone can buy it (or in today’s world, publish it).
  5. You must keep it on the market until someone buys it (or in today’s world, leave it up).

If you’re still chasing traditional publishers, numbers 4 and 5 above (he wrote this in 1947) mean after you’ve written something, if you want to be a professional writer you have to actually submit it to someone who can buy it (publisher). If it’s rejected, you put it in a new envelope and send it out to the next publisher on your list.

Heinlein himself wrote that these rules are deceptively simple and ridiculously difficult to follow. He wrote that’s why there are so few professional writers and so few aspirants. Which are you?

‘Til next time, happy writing!

Harvey

A very special blog post

Hi Folks,

If you live in southeast Arizona and you are an aspiring writer who

  • can’t seem to find time to write
  • has never heard of Heinlein’s Rules
  • HAS heard of Heinlein’s Rules but have amended them because you think they’re too good to be true
  • believe you have to “polish” your work before publication
  • believe you have to rewrite X number of times before publication
  • believe you have to write X number of drafts before publication

you REALLY need to take my one-day intensive on Writing Into the Dark. It covers all of that and a great deal more.

Believe me, I’m fully aware you can come up with any number of excuses why you can’t come, but if you can, this one day will probably be the best investment you’ve ever made in your writing.

Here’s what it would cost you

    • a trip to Benson next Saturday, October 25
    • a class from 9 – 4 with an hour for lunch
    • immersion in a small group of avid writers who care about the craft, and
    • eighty bucks (okay, dollars… eighty dollars… don’t be showing up with venison)

and I’m telling you, it’s worth at least three times that. Why am I selling my knowledge so cheaply? Because I want as many people to get it as possible, and frankly, after this one, I’m done.

If you live in southeast Arizona, and if you’d like to attend, email me at harveystanbrough@gmail.com and let me know. I’ll send you directions and everything else you need.

This probably is the last live seminar I will ever teach. From here on out, I’m writing at least 3 hours per day, at least 5 days per week. I can do that because I know this technique. I write about 1,000 words per hour. In a day, that’s 3000 words. In a week, it’s 15,000 words. In a year that’s 780,000 words (65,000 words per month). That’s working a “job” five days a week only three hours per day.

But calm my numbers down. Say you can write only 1000 words per day, 5 days per week. That’s still 5,000 words in a week, and in a year that’s still 260,000 words. At 60,000 words a pop, that’s four and one-third novels. Just writing 1,000 words per day, 5 days per week.

Now, do you want to be a writer or do you just want to talk about being a writer?

I still have five seats available in this intensive. Let me know.

Best,

Harvey

A New Era Begins: Writing Intensives and More

Hi Folks,

Now that I’ve retired as a copyeditor and resigned my position as General Manager of the Universe, I have more time for my own writing. Fortunately, I can also focus on teaching writing to those who are serious about becoming professional writers.

Most of my mechanics and techniques seminars (the ones I’ve taught all these years in Tucson, Bisbee, Green Valley and Willcox) are available online in my Audio Lecture Series. If you want to learn in-depth how to write dialogue or dialect or how to create characters or tame your overreaching narrator, that’s where you need to start.

But if you want to go beyond the mechanics and learn to make or augment your living as a professional writer, read on.

I’m developing a series of interactive online workshops. Each workshop will be six weeks long, each will include six “meetings” and five assignments. Each workshop will be limited to 10 participants, and I will work individually with each participant through emails and by critiquing his or her assignments. (The assignments will not be not mandatory, of course, but recommended to get the full benefit of the workshop.) At the end of some of these workshops, you will have written five more chapters in your novel (Yes, in six weeks), or you will have a five-story collection of short fiction or memoir. But much more than that, you will have gained confidence in yourself as a writer.

Initially I expect the online seminar topics will include these:

  • Writing Into the Dark (a technique used by the most prolific professional writers)
  • Employing the Persona (a technique that enables you to give power to your voices… all of them)
  • Writing the Descriptive Short Story (learn to write a story that’s difficult to stop reading)
  • Using Fiction Techniques to Bring Your Memoir to Life (dialogue, dialect, descriptive narrative)
  • Writing the Poem (this is not theory, but writing)

I’ll add other topics as time goes by. Each writing workshop will include 5 or more assignments and critiques, enabling you to learn what you’re doing right, what you could improve, and specifically how to improve it.

But it will take time to create the online workshops.

In the meantime, I’ve decided to offer a series of one-day workshop intensives on some of the same topics. By “intensive” I mean during six hours of instruction from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (an hour for lunch) you’ll receive a LOT of information, and all of it will be essential to your knowledge as a writer. This will be a day chock full of “aha moments.”

I’ll offer these one-day intesives in Benson, Arizona. Each intensive includes at least one critiqued assignment and costs 1/2 as much as the online version. Plus you get all the information in one fast-paced day.

The first intensive is scheduled for Saturday, October 18: “Writing Into the Dark.”

“Writing Into the Dark” is an invaluable, Zen-like technique and possibly the best-kept secret in writing. I am not exaggerating. This knowledge actually changed my life as a writer. If you want to dramatically increase your productivity and actually enjoy the writing process, this is the course you want. This will move you a giant leap closer to being a professional writer. If you already know the mechanics (if you’ve attended my earlier seminars), this course will get you there.
 
This day-long intensive will cover retraining yourself regarding how you think about writing and how you practice writing, learning to trust yourself and your process, setting priorities, an in-depth explanation of the technique itself (what it is and what it is not). Also includes busting some myths that actually quash the desire to write, silencing your critical mind so you can Just Write the Story, being IN the story (not ABOVE the story), increasing your productivity, and the importance of Heinlein’s Rules.
 
The workshop includes at least one critiqued assignment (short story, chapter of a novel [WIP], or memoir, depending on the your interests). The students will complete the assignment within a few days and send it to me via email. I’ll critique it and send it back. (The assignment is not mandatory, but recommended to get the full benefit of the course.)
The cost for this intensive (including the assignment and critique) is $120, payable in cash on the day of the course or in advance via PayPal.
Class size is limited to 10 participants, and I expect it to fill up quickly.
 
Reservations are first-come, first-served. To reserve your seat or for more information, email me at harveystanbrough@yahoo.com.

Those of you who are too far away to attend, hang in there. The online version is coming probably early next year. But if you live anywhere from Phoenix south to Mexico or east to Las Cruces, this trip would be well worth your time.

Perhaps best of all, I’m not teaching these workshops to make money. I’m offering them for those who want to learn. If a workshop makes (it takes only two or three participants to make a workshop, maximum 10) that’s great. I love teaching, and I love watching those little lights of understanding flick on. But if a workshop doesn’t make, that’s okay too. I’ll stay at my desk and write. 🙂

Finally, I still have a few seats available in my next Pro-Level Writing Seminar Group, which will meet in Benson beginning in January. There will be ten meetings, during which I will teach you everything I know about writing as well as a good deal about self-editing and publishing. Again, I have only a few seats left and there is an application process, so if you’re interested, please email me at harveystanbrough@yahoo.com on or before September 30.

On September 30 my regular blog posts will return with how to Safeguard Your Credibility as a writer. ‘Til then, happy writing!

Harvey

7 More Tips for Emarketing

Hey Folks,

As I mentioned last time, visitors on the web have literally thousands of choices when it comes to which websites they will visit and whether they will subscribe or bookmark those sites. Remember that it’s always more important to you that the visitor remains on or subscribes to your site or newsletter or blog post. Making it worth their while is never a waist of your time.

A few days after I received the request I wrote about last time, I received another one. A fellow literary laborer who asked me to visit her site and subscribe to her blog posts. She explained, “The subscription form is at the bottom of the page in the center.”

Okay, one, kudos to her for telling me where I could find the subscription form. But two, if I had been a casual browser who happened across her site, there’s an excellent chance I wouldn’t have found her subscription form.

Remember that people generally won’t work in order to do you a favor. I mean, if you’re trapped under a log or other inanimate object in your front yard, the person casually strolling by probably will be willing to invest considerable time and effort in freeing you. (Inanimate objects only, though. If you’re trapped under, say, a bear or a tiger or a massive lizard in your front yard, not so much, although the truly caring individual might bother to dial 911 or Animal Control or something.) But if doing you a favor falls under the category of doing a lot of mental calisthenics, again, not so much.

To maybe help you with the marketing aspects of your website, hear are a few more tips for emarketing:

1. If you want prospective readers to sign up for your newsletter or your blog posts, make it easy for them. Put a subscription form at the top of the sidebar on your home page. (Newspaper folks call this “above the fold.” In modern computerese, anything important should appear on the screen without the reader having to scroll down.)

2. It doesn’t hurt to put a “conversion bar”(a subscription bar that converts browsers into subscribers) across the top of your site too. For an excellent example, see the gold bar across the top of HarveyStanbrough.com.

3. Provide at least one call to action (urge to subscribe) in the body of your Welcome or About page, and again, this should appear above the fold. You want the offer to be available whenever the reader is in the mood to take you up on it. (The key to all marketing is to make the product available at the moment that the buyer wants it.)

4. Put at least one call to action in the body of each blog post or immediately after each blog post you write or newsletter you send out. Again, making it easy for the reader to become a subscriber is the key.

5. Offer an incentive for subscribing. For example, if you subscribe to HarveyStanbrough.com you get a free copy of the humorous and informative ebook, The Seven Writerly Sins. I offer that particular incentive because most of my readers are writers or are interested in writing.

6. Offer another incentive for reading the posts. Perhpas offer a free short story if the reader finds the intentional error (spelling or wrong word) and are the first to comment on it. (By the way, if you find the intentional error (spelling or wrong word) in this post and are one of the first few to comment on it in a comment posted on this site you will receive a freshly minted short story from yours truly or one of my alter egos. 🙂

7. Litter your posts and pages with Share buttons. If you look at the bottom of this post or scroll to the bottom of any page on my websites, you will see one-click buttons where the reader can share my post or the information on my page via Email, Facebook, Twitter, Google +, LinkedIn, and other venues. Go take a look; I’ll wait. I don’t have accounts with all those places, but why should I keep others from sharing where they have accounts?

‘Til next time, happy writing!

Harvey

A Bunch of New Stuff

Hi Folks,

Yeah, I know it isn’t the 10th or 20th or 30th, but then again this isn’t a normal blog post about writing. I mean, it’s about writing in a way, but first it’s about my website.

I’ve made a lot of changes to the site. The first is a general reorganization. I added a sidebar, made my new picture the subscription button, moved my Meet Harvey stuff (formerly Connect with Harvey) over under my picture, added some things I believe in and recent posts under that.

Over on the right side is an extremely important blogroll (especially the first link) if you are serious about Being A Writer. Below that are a series of links to writers’ resources. If you explore it, you won’t be disappointed. If you don’t… well, suffer. 🙂

The menu across the top of the page has changed too, with a couple of exciting additions. I changed the former Events tab to read Calendar. (By the way, my complete series of core seminars are scheduled now. Take a look so you don’t miss the ones you need.) On the far right end of the menu, you’ll see a Downloads tab. If you click that, you will find some valuable information, and it’s free. Click one or more of those links and you’ll see what I mean. I’ll be adding more information papers and documents and ebooks to the Downloads page as I think of new stuff to give away.

The next tab to the left is extremely exciting to me because it represents a new venture: if you click Lecture Series and read that page, you’ll see wheat I mean. In the coming weeks I’ll be recording video lectures on all of the topics and subtopics you see there. Once I get a few recorded and available, I’ll announce that through this blog. Then anyone who’s interested can sign up and begin viewing the ones they would like to view. If you prefer to simply revisit the page from time to time, as the lectures become available I’ll highlight the title in bold blue.

Finally, there will be other changes coming. I’ve decided to divest myself—albeit very slowly—of my publishing responsibilities at StoneThread. I won’t be entertaining any new submissions or extending any of the current contracts. If you know someone who would like to buy StoneThread, let me know. This change will enable me to return to my first love, Writing. Of course, I’ll still make my living as an editor, writing instructor, eformatter and ebook cover designer.

By the way, StoneThread is participating in Read an Ebook Week over at Smashwords. From now through March 8, all our ebooks are absolutely free. Just go to Smashwords Read an Ebook Week and enter coupon code RW100 during checkout to get your selections free of charge. Note: this is a Smashwords promotion, so it doesn’t work at Amazon or Apple or Barnes & Noble. If you poke around over there, you’ll find that a lot of my personal titles are free this week too. Same coupon code applies.

I think that’s it for this time. Oh, if you need the Microsoft Word Essentials for Writers seminar I’m teaching on March 15, you might want to check your calendar and sign up. It’s filling up fairly quickly.

‘Til next time, happy writing!
Harvey

 

Notes on Being a Professional Writer

Hi Folks,

Yeah that's me. The guy with the beard.
Yeah that’s me. The guy with the beard.

When I was first learning to play the guitar at the age of 14, I was frustrated. Even after I learned to chord cleanly, nothing ever sounded quite the way it had when I’d heard it on the radio or when my uncle or others had played it. I checked and double-checked my chording, the progressions and timing between chords, and even how I was holding the guitar. Nothing seemed to make a difference. When I played for others, if anything it actually sounded worse than when I played alone.

I finally I asked my uncle (the guy I’m looking at in the pic), “When will I be able to play like you do?”

He just grinned and pointed at my guitar. “When you stop thinking of that thing as just another toy.”

He was right. When I began to respect my guitar and the discipline, I learned quickly. Like any other craft, it took respect, diligence and practice. Talent doesn’t hurt anything either, as evidenced by the existence of folks like Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Duane Allman, Jimmy Page, Chet Atkins, John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, Eric Clapton and many more. But there are a lot of great guitarists who make money at their craft but have never gotten famous.

Writing is no different. Although some writers are profound enough or prolific enough to achieve fame, many make a living with their craft without ever becoming household names. But “craft” is the key word. Writing is a craft, and to master it, the writer must study and practice, always striving for perfection. The fact is, great writers never stop learning.

The others, those who will never become great writers, fall into two general categories. The first group consists of those who believe the ability to use two long lines and a short one to create a capital letter A renders them able to write. Their motto is The reader will know what I mean, which in my experience as an editor equates to I can’t be bothered to do the actual work. The second group consists of those whose work has been published (self-published or otherwise) and they’ve taken that as a signal that they can learn nothing more. Ten minutes browsing in a bookstore or reading excerpts online will tell you that simply isn’t so.

If you want to be a successful fictionist—by which I mean a writer of short stories, novellas, novels, memoir and creative nonfiction—you need a driving desire to Get It Right. That’s what separates professional writers from those who just “kind’a sort’a think it might be neat to knock out” a few short stories or a novel.

For a professional writer, the first draft is for himself; everything else is for the reader.

Believe me, I understand the frustrations of trying to get a sentence or paragraph or passage Just Right, but the difficulty inherent in creating something brand new is the joy that enables the writer to keep breathing. There’s a great deal more to it than simply putting in the time. As Hemingway wrote, “Writing is something that you can never do as well as it can be done.” Most days he wrote only 400 to 600 words, but those words comprised a finished, polished passage. Some writers “just write” then go back and polish later in a second or third draft. But regardless of the individual writer’s ritual or technique, I’ve never known a successful professional writer who would risk anything short of making his or her writing as perfect as possible.

But won’t a really strong story carry weak writing? Generally, no. Consider, even though your overall story might well be wonderful, if any part of it confuses a reader or makes the reader wonder about inconsistencies or stops the reader cold, that story is not ready for publication. The writer should polish endlessly to get those glitches out, not because he can actually achieve perfection but because he should be embarrassed to present such work to the public. In the publishing world more than anywhere else, you truly do get only one chance to make a first impression. “Good enough” simply isn’t.

The point is, it isn’t the reader’s job to decipher your writing. The first time or two that most readers encounter confusing passages or egregious errors, they will simply toss the work aside and vow never to buy anything else by that author. So even though the writing might well improve later, fewer readers will take a chance on it. And why would they buy that author’s work again? The fictionist’s job is to entertain the reader. The reader’s job is to be entertained.

By the way, if you’re interested in becoming a professional writer, I’m offering a free introductory seminar on February 15 entitled “Taking Your Writing to the Next Level.” I’ll conduct the seminar in south Tucson. If you want to earn a regular income from your writing, if you strive for perfection in your craft and want your work to outshine all the other submissions in the publisher’s in box, these seminars are must-have. For information, email me at h_stanbrough@yahoo.com.

‘Til next time, happy writing!

Harvey

PS: If you’re reading this in an email and you’d like to comment (please do) just visit http://harveystanbrough.com/blog, scroll to the end of the current post and comment.

10 Lesser Mistakes Writers Make

Hi Folks,

First, a kind of news flash: We’ve extended the 50%-off sale on fiction over at StoneThread Publishing through Tuesday, January 14. To take advantage of this excellent sale,

  • Visit StoneThread Publishing to get the coupon codes for the titles you’re interested in, then
  • Click any cover to go to Smashwords.
  • Enter the coupon code for the book you want during checkout, and download your selected title in any ebook format (Kindle, Nook, Apple, Sony, etc.)

Thanks for your patience. 🙂 Now on to the blog post!

I called the mistakes I listed in my previous post, The Top 7 Mistakes Writers Make, labor intensive because there is no easy way for the writer or editor to resolve them. You just have to go through the manuscript bit by bit and repair or delete them as you find them. That’s more than a little difficult because, of course, you’re also looking for problems in sentence and paragraph structure, misspellings, errors or misleading use in punctuation, wrong word usages, inanities, bad simile and metaphor, etc.

With all of that going on, trying to remember to watch for a narrator overstepping his bounds by using sense verbs or using past tense when past-progressive is necessary or using gave, stood, or sat as throw-away verbs is a bit much even for a professional editor. That’s why it’s so important for you, the writer, to learn not to make those mistakes in the first place.

This time I’m listing a few “lesser” mistakes. These too are fairly common and they certainly can keep a manuscript from being accepted for publication. However, as a freelance editor I don’t mind these so much because they’re fairly easy to rectify. I (or you) can use Microsoft Word’s Find & Replace dialogue to repair or delete them quickly. (For an excellent tutorial on the invaluable Find & Replace feature, Click Here.)

He Said (or Thought) to Himself

No, he didn’t. He mumbled or muttered or whispered or said quietly or thought, but he didn’t say to himself. Don’t let the narrator write “to himself,” “to herself,” or “to themselves” in a tag line. It’s inane, redundant, and just plain silly. Allow your narrator to use “to himself,” “to herself,” or “to themselves” only if the narrator is talking about a character having a room “all to herself” or a character is “keeping to himself” etc.

Using “Took and” or “Reached and” or “Reached Out and” or “Reached Over and” or “Reached Across and” (You get the idea.)

Don’t allow your narrator to say a character “took and” something or “reached out and” or “reached over and.” In every case, you can lose the phrase and allow the reader to move to the meat of the action. For example,

If a character’s lying in bed reading and “He turned out the bedside lamp” the reader will see him reach. The narrator doesn’t have to say “He reached over (or out or across) and turned out the bedside lamp.”

She took her daughter’s hand and squeezed it. (Couldn’t she have squeezed it while it was still attached to her daughter? What you want here is She squeezed her daughter’s hand.)

She took a can of air freshener and sprayed the kitchen. (She sprayed the kitchen with air freshener.)

He reached out and picked up the TV remote. (He picked up the TV remote.)

She reached over and smacked him upside the head. (She smacked him upside the head or She did what came naturally.)

To easily and quickly find and correct these, key “took” or “reached” into the Find What block of your Find and Replace dialogue box.

Beginning a Sentence with “Suddenly” or “Instantly” or “Instantaneously”

Beginning a sentence with “instantly” or “suddenly” or anything similar is almost never a good idea. If something happens instantly, have your narrator get to it without delay so the reader can experience it. If you force the reader to read the word “instantly” or “suddenly,” it slows the reading and waters down the immediacy of the action.

Likewise, I advise against using such words even later in the sentence. Please don’t try to get around this one by changing “Suddenly a shot rang out” to “A shot suddenly rang out” or “Instantly her eyes welled with tears” to “Her eyes instantly welled with tears.”

Other Misuses That Are Easy to Fix

Despite its widespread misuse because it sounds cool, “likely” is an adjective, not an adverb, and it is synonymous with “probable,” not “probably.” I cringe every time a weather guy says “It likely will rain tonight.”

Despite its widespread misuse, it’s never “try and.” It’s always “try to.” If you want to correc this one with Find & Replace, be sure to put “ try and ” (with spaces on both sides) in the Find What block and “ try to ” in the Replace With block. Otherwise, chances are you’ll replace things you don’t want to replace.

Try not to let your narrator use the phrase “she (he) knew.” Instead, just omit it and see whether the sentence works just as well. Most of the time it will.

The narrator very seldom (if ever) needs to use the words “now” or “today.” Past tense is the natural voice of narrative, and both of those refer to the present.

Try to avoid phrases like “he admitted” or “she had to admit that” or “he couldn’t deny that.” Such phrases answer a question that hasn’t been asked. Writing “he couldn’t deny that he was jealous” implies that someone asked him whether he was jealous. Likewise, writing “she had to admit that blah blah blah” implies that someone was interrogating her and she finally gave in. This is another example of the narrator over reaching.

Don’t write that a character “nodded her head yes” or “shook his head no.” When a character nods, it always means yes. When he shakes his head, it always means no.

Although it’s often misused, “while” always indicates a simultaneous passage of time. The writer most often wants “although” or “even though.”

‘Til next time, happy writing, and may all of you enjoy a happy and prosperous and free New Year.

Harvey

A New Note in Punctuation

Hi Folks,

Interrobang1When I edit a manuscript, my sole purpose is to make the reading experience seamless for the reader, thereby enhancing the writer’s reputation for excellent writing. When I’m finished there should be no rough edges over which the reader can stumble, no ambiguity or lags in the flow of information that can momentarily confuse the reader, and no punctuation that fails to direct the reading of the work and help convey the mood of the moment.

We probably are all aware of the “new” punctuation mark that’s actually been around since 1962, the interrobang. It looks like an exclamation point imbedded in question mark. It’s intended to convey the exclamatory question. I was going to show you one in context, but most fonts don’t include it yet, so I’ve slipped in a couple of photos instead. The one above is a stylized photo from http://interrobang-mks.com/ and the one below is the way the interrobang appears in Microsoft Word’s Wingdings 2 collection. (To find it go to Format, choose Fonts, then Wingdings 2. To find the interrobang, on your keyboard select the ~ or the } or the ^ (the carat above the 6) or the _.)

Note that the interrobang would be used only in dialogue as the narrator never has a reason to display emotion of any kind, even when he’s also a character. As in real life, the narrator and character roles are different even when they’reInterrobang2 played by the same person. But back to reality for a moment. To keep the interrobang in the font you’re using through the rest of the manuscript, I advocate using a question mark followed by an exclamation point: “What the hell are you doing?!”

The question mark should come first because “What the hell are you doing?” is a question. The exclamation point simply indicates that the question was presented in a stressed voice. (Of course, the way the question is worded indicates a bit of stress even without the exclamation point.) Here’s the question presented differently to indicate increasing levels of stress:

“What the hell are you doing?”
What the hell are you doing?
“What the hell are you doing?!”
What the hell are you doing?!

And that isn’t all. In my current editing project, I ran across the situation that stirred this blog post in the first place: a terse statement (again, in dialogue) that had been interrupted by the other character. Here’s that snippet of conversation:

“You don’t give a damn about our race, you pompous son of a—!”
“I’ll tell you one thing, William, and listen to me closely.”

Of course, we know to use the em dash to indicate the abruptness of an interruption. To indicate an exclamation that’s been interrupted, as in the excerpt above I advocate using the em dash followed by the exclamation point: “What the—!” or “Oh man! Holy sh—!” or “But Manuel, I love—!” or “¡Pero Maria, te amo—!”

(Now, for those of you who still believe you should use an ellipsis to indicate an interruption, please don’t. Remember that the ellipsis creates a pause of indeterminate length; that is, whether the pause is medium or long or somewhere in between depends on the context. That’s why the ellipsis is appropriate to indicate halting speech or dialogue trailing away at the end of a sentence—there’s nothing abrupt about it—so to juxtapose the ellipsis with an exclamation point simply wouldn’t work. If I may personify the two marks for a moment, the lackadaisical attitude exhibited by the ellipsis would clash with the sense of urgency conveyed by the exclamation point.)

So there y’go. If you’re wondering about any other punctuation marks or if you believe you’ve discovered new, innovative uses for them or for combinations, please add a comment below.

‘Til next time, happy writing!

Harvey