Comma Rules

I took a small break from the blog with all the holiday stuff going on. But I got a request to address comma usage today, so that’s what we’ll focus on. Commas can be tricky for some. You might not be sure when you need one and when you don’t. Some people assume you need a comma anywhere you would pause when speaking, but this is not true. So when do we need a comma? Let’s look at some common rules.

  • For compound sentences. First let’s talk independent clauses. An independent clause has a subject and a verb and is a complete sentence in its own right. So, for example, “I went to the park today.” It’s a complete sentence. If you add on another independent clause using and, or, but, nor, for, yet, or so, use a comma before the conjunction. “I went to the park today, and I played with my dog.” If you remove the second subject (the I), it’s no longer two independent clauses and you wouldn’t need the comma. “I went to the park today and played with my dog.”
  • After a prepositional phrase. Prepositions are words like under, over, above, about, around, when, after, on, etc. You need a comma at the end of each prepositional phrase. “When I went to the park, I saw a friend.” “After breakfast, I went to the gym.”
  • Appositives are another word for renaming a phrase. For example, “My friend, Jenny, is good at math.” My friend and Jenny are the same, just renamed. Or “My mother, the pianist, is an artist.” This does not apply to “that” phrases.
  • After introductory phrases like finally or however.
  • For parenthetical phrases. If you have extra information that could be separated from the rest of the sentence by parentheses and still make sense, surround the phrase with commas. “Mary, who is my mother’s best friend, is a painter.”
  • To address someone. When you address someone or something, you surround the address with commas. “Jenny, did you finish yet?” Or, “How are you, Tim?”
  • Between two adjectives that modify the same noun where you could use and between them. “She was young and pretty. She was a young, pretty girl.”
  • In a series of three or more. This is also known as the Oxford comma. Use a comma before the conjunction in a list of three or more. “I want to thank my parents, Einstein, and God.” If you were to take out this comma, the sentence becomes “I want to thank my parents, Einstein and God,” which actually means Einstein and God are your parents thanks to the appositive rule. That’s why this comma should be used for clarification.
  • For “If” statements. “If you go, be sure to take the dog.” “If you don’t do it, I’ll take away your phone.”
  • In dialogue. Use a comma before the quote and at the end of the quote if you use any attributions like he said and she said.

She said, “How are you?”

“It’s late,” he said.

  • To offset negation. “She was young, not old.” “Instead of old, use ancient.”
  • Use commas around years in dates. You may know you need a comma before the year, but you also need one after the year if the sentence continues. “July 5, 1995, was an important day for him.”

These are the most common rules for comma usage. It may seem tricky at first, but once you’ve familiarized yourself with the rules, it will all make sense. Review this list regularly and happy writing!

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Tips for Writing Steampunk

So we’ve had an ongoing series on tips for writing different genres. Today, I’d like to close that series with a brief write-up for tips on writing steampunk. Steampunk is a newer genre compared to the others we’ve talked about, but is enjoying great popularity for its visual aesthetics and fun plots. Let’s look at some quick tips.

  • Read in the genre. As always, the best way to understand and emulate a genre is to read widely in it. There’s a ton of different things you can do with steampunk, it’s all about innovativeness and genre smashing, but that can make it tricky to figure out what, in fact, to do. Figure out what works and what doesn’t by reading steampunk novels. Discover the conventions and tropes and archetypal characters. And figure out how the technology works, so you can incorporate it seamlessly into your own work.
  • Worldbuilding and setting are super important for steampunk. The setting should be like a character unto itself. Spend time getting to know and crafting your story world. How does the technology work? Is it set in Wild West times or Victorian times? How do people dress? Travel? What do they do for fun? Discover the intricacies of your world and describe the details. Here are some tips for worldbuilding here.
  • Your setting will be in a different time period than modern day. Your technology will also be vastly different. Gone are combustible engines. Instead we imagine steam based and cog based technology. You’ll need to do research to get these details right and bring your story to life. Even though this is an imagining of the world, it still needs to be believable and realistic. Especially pay attention to the visual aesthetics of steampunk. The genre is known for it. So what do your characters’ dresses look like? Their airships? Nail this for a stronger story. Images will be your friend as you research.
  • Don’t info dump. You may need to know a bit to figure out how to get your airship to fly, but your reader doesn’t need to know all that technical jargon and facts. Same with the information regarding the time period your story is set in. Only include information that moves your story forward or develops your characters. Sprinkle in details to give yourself a rich setting and story world, but don’t go overboard. Serve the story, always.

This is a fun genre and I definitely encourage you to jump in and try it. Read a few books to get an idea of conventions and go wild. Happy writing!

Julia

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Tips for Writing Historical Fiction

We’ve been talking writing different genres in this series. Today I wanted to take a look at historical fiction. Now historical fiction can seem really daunting with its attention to detail and accuracy, but it’s a tangible goal to reach, just like any other genre. Let’s look at some tips for writing historical fiction.

  • Read in your genre. I know I say this every time, but it’s because it works. You’ll get the idea of how to write in an authentic, accurate voice and how to weave in facts seamlessly without an info dump. It will help you determine what works and what doesn’t work for historical fiction. Make sure to read books in the time period you want to write in as well.
  • Write about universal themes. This will help your modern day audience to relate to the past in a significant way. Finding yourself, finding love, and making friends are all things we can still understand, no matter the time period. Connect to your audience with theme.
  • Facts can bog down your story. Yes, you should do research and yes, you want to be accurate in your details, but not at the expense of the story. Avoid info dumps at all cost. And weigh which facts are important and which ones are just extraneous. You need to do a ton of research for your story, but not all of that then gets put in. Only the information that carries the story forward.
  • Don’t go down the research rabbit hole. Have a plan for what you need to know and stick to it. Otherwise you’ll be distracted and follow a bunch of tangents, finding yourself up at 3 in the morning after a five hour blackout. Set aside specific time to research each week, separate from writing time, and stick to your plan. If you find you need to research something while you’re writing, type in [rabbit] and keep going. Later, use the control F feature to search for all of your [rabbit]s and do the research when it’s time to.
  • Organize your research. Use apps like Evernote or Scrivener, use binders, use Pinterest. Whatever it takes to keep track of everything you’ve learned so you can access it easily when you need to. This is a bit of work up front, but saves you time in the end.
  • Show, don’t tell. Especially those facts you spent hours researching and are now trying to cram into your story. Now is not the time to info dump. Immerse your readers into the story world and evoke all five senses, not just sight. If you’re finding it’s too awkward to include a detail or fact, don’t try to force it in. You want your story to read naturally. Don’t bore your reader with too many facts.
  • Once you have enough research done to get started, start writing. Don’t use research as an excuse to procrastinate. The point is to write.

So get started! What are your best tips for writing historical fiction? Share below and happy writing!

Julia

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Tips on Writing Sci-fi

So we’ve been going through different genres and exploring tips for how to write them. I’d like to continue that journey today by talking about how to write Sci-fi. Let’s take a look at some tips now.

  • Read, read, read other Sci-fi, both hard and soft. See what works and what doesn’t work in the genre. How do other authors approach the technology and science involved in the story? How is it balanced with the fiction aspect? You can learn so much just from reading other Sci-fi stories.
  • Obviously Sci-fi is based on science and technology that’s either present or based on something attainable in the future. This means we have to do research to understand what is and isn’t possible and why. This can be incredibly daunting, but will add depth and credibility to your writing. Set aside time separate from writing each week to do the research needed to bring your story to life. This helps you tackle the task of researching while still protecting your writing time. Need to look up something that pops up in the middle of writing a scene? Just put [rabbit] in the text. Later, when it’s time to research, use the control F function to search for all the [rabbit]s to figure out what you need to research.
  • World build. Whether it’s a completely new planet your characters are inhabiting or Earth set in the future, you’ll need to do some solid world building to create your story world. Even though some elements may be fantastical, things still have to be believable, especially in Sci-fi. So have realistic limitations and rules for your technology, and have realistic traits and characteristics for your characters and cultures. If humans are suddenly blue, you better have a good explanation for why. I talk a bit about world building here.
  • Know what to research. Research is crucial, but if it’s a small detail that doesn’t really matter in the end, do we really need to spend five hours on Wikipedia to get it? Research the big things that matter. Research things you’re not familiar with to get them right. But don’t waste time if it’s not significant and doesn’t add much to your story.
  • Don’t info dump. Now that you have all that knowledge, it’s tempting to try and cram it all into your story. Don’t. Give your reader only the information they need to move forward with the story. Use details to give your world depth, but don’t spend paragraphs on them. Avoid the dreaded info dump at all costs.

But most of all, don’t be afraid to write in this genre. Every story requires research and believability, so don’t let these things stop you from writing that great idea you have in your head. A little due diligence and imagination are all you need, so get started! And happy writing!

Julia

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Tips for Writing Memoir

So we’ve been looking at how to write in different genres. This week I thought we could take a step away from fiction and look at how to write a memoir. This is a genre many people, even non writers, are interested in. So here’s some tips for how to proceed.

  • This isn’t about data or cold facts. You have a message and a story to tell. You’re still crafting a narrative and that’s crucial to remember. You’re not writing a how-to guide, so connect to your readers emotionally.
  • That said, this also isn’t fiction. Stay true to what actually happened. Be honest about yourself and your story and that genuineness will connect to your readers.
  • Have a structure to build up the action and to resolve for a satisfying conclusion. Just like writing a novel, you want to have a recognizable story structure.
  • Employ writing techniques. Develop well-rounded characters, build your scenes, and show, don’t tell. Immerse your reader into your writing.
  • Develop and stay true to your voice. Your readers are reading your tale for more than just find out what happened. They want to experience your unique and engaging writing style and be entertained by your voice. Learn more about developing your voice here.
  • Engage in emotions. It’s not just about exactly what happened, but also about what you felt and thought when it happened and in retrospect. That’s what your readers will connect to, so don’t just stick to facts.
  • Focus on a theme or message. You may have a couple of themes, but you want to stay away from having too many, which is like adding too many spices to a dish. Use theme to concentrate your writing and fine tune your story. Weave it throughout the story. You don’t want to be too heavy-handed with your theme. Trust that your reader will get your message.
  • Know your audience. As with any kind of creative writing, it helps to know who you’re writing for. Your memoir isn’t going to be for everyone, no story can be, so who will it be perfect for? How would they want you to craft your tale? Write to them.
  • Read, read, read. Read other memoirs to see how they craft their stories. The best way to learn how to write a different genre is by reading extensively in that genre. Read the really good memoirs. Read the really bad memoirs. You can learn a lot from both as to what to do and what not to do.

Hope these tips help you as you start writing your memoir. Remember to craft your story as you would any other story. Best of luck and happy writing!

Julia

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Tips for Writing a Romance

So let’s continue with our explorations of other genres. Today I want to talk about writing a romance. Now romances are a little different than the other genres we’ve explored because it’s not about big plot points. So let’s look at some tips for writing a romance.

  • Know your genre and learn the expectations that go along with romance. For instance, it’s not a romance unless it has a happy ending. Now is not the time for cynicism. It must end in a HEA or at the very least a HFN.
  • It must have well developed characters. Romance novels are more character driven than plot driven. So you need strong characters to move the story forward. And obviously the relationships between your characters must be developed as well. Make them believable and relatable.
  • Don’t make your characters perfect. No one can relate to a perfect character and truly invest themselves in your characters and story. Give your characters flaws to make them like real people.
  • Stay within the realm of the possible. You don’t want your story to seem outlandish or contrived. Make your plot and the obstacles to your love believable.
  • Avoid flowery prose to describe your characters—or anything else for that matter. Overly wrought descriptions are in poor taste. Descriptions should be natural and integral to the story. Don’t overdo it.
  • Write sex scenes with care. And write them according to your taste. Some authors like to start the action then let it fade to black, leaving the details to the reader’s imagination. Others like to describe it all. There’s no right or wrong. It comes down to what you feel comfortable writing. Don’t force a sex scene just because you feel you have to. And if you do decide to describe the action, don’t go over the top with your descriptions and comparisons. You don’t want to sound ridiculous. Stick to being accurate in naming body parts and describe the feelings involved in the scene. Focus on the feelings to add depth to the scene and make it memorable.
  • Avoid overdone tropes and clichés, like the love triangle. This is why it’s so critical to read in your genre to know what’s been done way too much. Be original. Original is good.
  • Have more relationships than just the love interest(s). We have lots of different relationships in our lives. Familial, friendships, professional, and on and on. Add depth to your story and to your characters by showcasing these other interactions.

Remember romances are not about plot points and what’s happening. We want interesting things to happen to keep our reader interested, but it’s more about the characters and how they interact with each other. Don’t be afraid to give romance writing a try. What are your best tips for writing romance? Share below and happy writing.

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Writing Mysteries

Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, some of the most iconic characters come from mystery stories. Let’s continue to explore other genres and take a look at mysteries today.

  • Just as with horror, building a suspenseful mood is key to keeping those pages turning. Every description of the setting and more should build up the atmosphere and create a sense of urgency and suspense. Build up the mystery of the situation and the characters.
  • Use red herrings. Red herrings are clues which mislead or distract the reader from who really did it. You don’t want to lie to your reader or break their trust in you, but keep them guessing who-dunnit ‘til the very end. Red herrings help to build tension and make your story a page turner. Whether this is a suspicious character, an object that seems to have a lot of significance, or a clue planted deliberately to lead everyone down the wrong trail, red herrings add to your mystery.
  • Stay away from convoluted plots. Your reader should be asking questions, but one of these questions shouldn’t be “really?” Unexpected thing can happen, but make sure your story is believable on a basic level and real to your reader. Oftentimes, simple is best when it comes to plotting. Don’t lose your reader by going over the top.
  • Focus on the ending and make it satisfying. You want to give your reader an a-ha moment when you finally reveal who did it and why. The tension, suspense, and mood of the story all builds to the big ending, so don’t disappoint with a lackluster reveal or a predictable outcome. Use red herrings to your advantage to keep your readers guessing all the way to the end.
  • Build great characters. Good writing is built with great characters. They bring your story world to life. You want a sleuth to be unique and relatable and your supporting characters to defy stereotypes and clichés. Make them fully fleshed-out and intriguing. And make them stand out. Don’t just write another Sherlock Holmes. Make your characters new and original.
  • Plant your clues throughout your story to truly make your ending satisfying. Maybe there are even clues your sleuth didn’t pick up on at first. Maybe they were focused on the red herrings instead.
  • Avoid clichés. This could be anything from a thunderstorm to set the mood to an overdone character to ten people locked in a mansion. Be original and make the story truly yours.

What are your tips for writing mysteries? Share below and happy sleuthing!

Julia

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