Being a Better Writer Follow-up: Em-dash Addendum

Hello readers! Bit of a mid-week surprise here with a follow-up to Monday’s post, The Ellipses and the Em-Dash, Odd Forms of Punctuation. An interesting follow-up with a bit of history for you that may clear up a question some readers apparently were left with. I got a few comments on the post, split between here on the site and a reblog elsewhere, expressing questions about the en-dash. Nope, not the em-dash, but endash. Which I’ll admit I’d forgotten all about, as for me it was hardly ever used.

Turns out there’s a reason for that. With a few comments on the topic, I went digging, and found out why. And now, I pass it on to you, readers, as it will likely clear up some confusion experienced by some of you after reading Monday’s article.

See, there were a few people who contacted me to point out that they’d never heard of the em-dash being used the way I’d spoken of it, but rather the en-dash. Which, if you’ve not seen it, is just a slightly shorter em-dash. Think halfway between an em-dash and a hyphen. In the US, the only time we use the en-dash is for the dash between dates, like say 1947–1951.

In the US.

Yeah. I did some digging, and found something out I didn’t know before Tuesday morning. See, the em-dash and the en-dash? Both are dashes named for the size of the dash when they were a piece of movable type. One is the size of the letter N, the other the letter M.

Then there’s another bit. Both were dashes, just of different lengths, and so the places doing the printing (likely driven by space and cost factors, as a lot of conventions that became grammar rules came from that) had to choose which was appropriate.

In the United States, the em-dash was chosen to be the common piece, and the en-dash relegated to dates and a few case-specific uses.

In Britain, however, it was the other way around. That’s right, in Britain the en-dash was made the common piece, and the em-dash relegated to dates and specific uses.

Oh. Suddenly some confusion at my post makes a lot of sense. It’s another case where internationally, countries differ in their usage of grammar. Like grey or gray, color or colour.

Thankfully, in the modern era, readers are a little bit more jaded when it comes to such differences thanks to the internet. Pick the one you’re most comfortable with, and again, as stated Monday, be consistent.

Now, back to writing!

Being a Better Writer: The Ellipses and the Em-dash, Odd Forms of Punctuation

Welcome back readers! I hope you had, if from the US, a successful and interesting 4th of July, and if not from the US, a solid weekend! I did. For starters, my friends and I gathered and watched all of Season 3 of Netflix’s Stranger Things. I won’t spoil anything (obviously, I mean, come on) but I will say that I think it’s better than the second season. Mostly because they fixed the largest flaw with the second season, which was some weak pacing in the last few episodes. Here everything is much more tightly bound together, and there’s never really a single moment where even if you feel like you can stop that you want to.

So yeah, it’s really good. I do recommend. Next, there are only a few hours left in the Independence Day Sale! By tomorrow, it’ll no longer be available, so if you were planning on grabbing Shadow of an EmpireColonyDead Silver, or another book of mine while they were on the cheap, now’s your last chance! You’ve only got until the end of the day!

Finally, just a quick heads-up that we’re about to start the Summer of Cliche Writing Advice here with Being a Better Writer, and we’ve put out requests to you, readers, for every bit of cliche writing advice you’ve ever been told. If you missed the announcement, there’s a lot of cliche writing advice out there that can do more harm than good, especially when it’s taken literally and without the context it once had. So BaBW is going to spend the summer breaking down that advice, stepping back to look at what it really means and what you should be learning from it.

That starts next week and runs through either the summer or until we run out of cliche advice! If you’ve got one that you’ve always heard, go ahead and post it in the comments so it can go on the list!

Right, so with all that said (you read it, right? Sale, Stranger Things, and Summer of Cliche Writing Advice!), let’s talk writing! Specifically, let’s talk about some of the lesser-taught methods of punctuation out there: the ellipses and the em-dash.

You’ve seen them before … Right? In fact, there was one right there! Those three periods right in a row, the “…” That’s an ellipses, and you’ve likely seen one from time to time when reading a book. Or a lot if you read comics, or fairly regularly if you’re reading technical or research papers that use a lot of quotations. Though the use is a bit different in that last one.

Point being, you’ve likely seen it used somewhere. But, even though used on occasion, you don’t see it used as often as, say, the comma, or the period, or the question mark, all of which are regular features of punctuation you’re taught about in a basic school education.

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Being a Better Writer: Micro-Blast #7 – The Anti-Story, Sleep, Knowledge, Capitalism

Welcome back readers! And welcome to the new readers! Life, The Universe, and Everything is over, but I can already see from the stats page that we have some newcomers! Welcome! Whether you’re here to look at my books, or here for some weekly Being a Better Writer, welcome all the same!

So then, let’s get down to business with this week’s post, which is … a Micro-blast. Number seven, to be exact. What’s a Micro-blast? Well, it’s what happens when I near the end of a list of writing topics I’ve made for BaBW, and some of them just aren’t quite worth a full post, but are still worth discussing. Micro-blasts are a good way to bridge the gap, combining several shorter topics into one post so that there’s still a decent amount of material covered. Readers get a variety of subjects, and I get to clear some shorter topics and concepts off of my list.

Sound pretty straightforward? Good! Then let’s go!

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Being a Better Writer: The Five-Man Band

Welcome back, readers, to another Monday! Which of course means another Being a Better Writer post. I do want to keep these to Monday if at all possible. Work shifts permitting.

But first, some news. I’ve picked up a few more reviews, moving my total ever closer to my year-end goal. Who says you can’t get started early? If I do the math, I’m currently sitting at, between Goodreads and Amazon, a grand total of 190 reviews and ratings. Pretty much an even split, numbers-wise, between the two.

By the end of the year, I’d like to double that. 400. That’s the goal, and I’ll be keeping a tally going, mentioning it on here from time to time.

The next milestone? 200. I’m only 10 away. Then 300, and then the goal. As for what will happen when I hit these? Well, outside of celebration, I’m not really sure yet. Probably something cool.

Aside from that, there isn’t too much news to wax on. Progress on Hunter/Hunted moves toward its conclusion. I’m somewhere in the final act, and finally getting a handle on some of the story’s more difficult concepts and elements. Since it’s a freebie fan-project and not something for sale, as usual I’ve experimented with some new things and choices. We’ll see what readers make of them, but I’ve definitely already come away with a few lessons of “that worked, that didn’t” to keep in mind for future projects.

And crud, I may as well mention that I missed a project for this year when I spoke about upcoming work in a recent post. I didn’t forget Fireteam Freelance. Or Starforge. Or the yet-unnamed-Halo-novel pitch. But I did forget a big one:

Axtara: Banking and Finance.

You might not remember this one; it was the first “short” story I wrote for the LTUE Dragons anthology, only for the story to quickly balloon out of the realm of “short” (always a stretch for me, even by the collections broad definitions) and into “Novella or Novel.” So it got set aside in favor of A Game of Stakes, which has already been submitted (so now we play the waiting game).

definitely have to devote some time to Axtara this year, as the idea is far to fun to leave untouched. A dragon going into investment banking? Yes, there’s a fun story there. It just wasn’t a short one.

Okay, and with that, enough news! Let’s talk about writing! Specifically, about the Five-Man Band.

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Being a Better Writer: Keeping Details in Line

Afternoon readers!

It’ll be a short one today (in addition to being late). Why? Christmas season at my part-time. We’re doing lots of holiday parties and the like, and we’re doing them every day. Which means … late nights, lots of them, flipping rooms. On the one hand, extra cash and hours … on the other, extra hours that are late. You know, 4 AM late.

Tired? Why yes I am now that you mention it.

Long story short, it means I’m a bit tired, and so got up later than normal. Today’s post will also be a bit shorter than normal.

But that doesn’t make it by any means a topic that’s less important. In fact, today’s topic is a basic one that is absolutely vital but can still be overlooked, as I’ll demonstrate here in a moment. Today, I want to talk about keeping details in line with one another. Or in other words …

Continuity.

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Being a Better Writer: Self-Deceiving Characters

Hello readers! How was your weekend? Get any good reading in? I did. Working my way through Jack Campbell’s second Lost Fleet series, which has been good fun. Spoilers, but he has an interesting approach to alien life.

Anyway, there’s not much in the way of news (outside of the Beta Call for A Game of Stakes having gone out a couple of days ago, so check your inboxes) so we’re going to jump right to today’s topic. Which, by the way, is a companion piece to a Being a Better Writer post a month or so back on Ambiguous stories and characters.

See, over the course of that post it became clear that there was one aspect which needed its own time set aside. Sure, we can have a plot, events, or characters that is ambiguous or deceptive to the reader, and even to other characters through lack of information, the wrong information, or even the wrong position (all of which, if memory serves, came up in that other post), but what about a character who is ambiguous about things because they themselves refuse to acknowledge them. As in, well, the title today: A character that deliberately deceives themselves?

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Being a Better Writer: The Convenient Romantic Subplot

Welcome back, readers! It’s Monday, and you know what that means! Time for Being a Better Writer!

But first, a slight aside. Dave Freer (you may have read something of his) wrote this little blurb that caught my eye from my morning feed on the Mad Genius Club (their name, not mine) about large books. More accurately, on books that dive past the “normal” length of 40,000 to 100,000 words. I found it interesting, both because well, the “normal” length for me is hovering around 325K per story, and because Freer is writing this as someone who doesn’t write such long books and is putting forth his thoughts on both why he doesn’t and where they may fit with readers and the industry.

I found it interesting, especially as it does point out how much of an outlier I am with the breadth and scope of what I do. Those of you who are fans of my work, take a look at his thoughts and see what you think. If you’re so inclined, if you think he nailed something or was way off, leave a comment!

Okay, news aside. Let’s talk writing stuff. Now, today’s topic isn’t a requested one. In fact, it’s not even on my Topic List. No, this is one that came to mind as I was sitting reading through another book last night (a short story collection, in this case, but I hit the library recently, so I’ve been mowing through a literal stack of books). I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately—more than the norm—and naturally, I was noticing a lot of trends as I read through. One of the most common, which I’m sure many of you readers, movie-watchers, and the like also notice, is the sometimes dreaded romantic subplot.

Naturally, I started thinking about it. Why we use it. Why it’s become so blasted common and cliche, and yet still sticks around despite that. Why so many feel the need to stick a romantic subplot into an otherwise good story (this, by the way, is often called a romantic plot tumor when it doesn’t belong). Why so many dislike it, and yet it constantly shows up, again and again. Personally, I felt it was worth talking about. Because I guarantee you, a number of readers of this site have sat down to write out their story, and almost immediately thrown a romance subplot in without even knowing why.

Now, I do want to make a caveat here: I am not talking about the romance genre. I’m talking about romantic subplots. You know, a side plot to the main story. Not a story where the romance is the story, but a story where the romance is something happening alongside the main story, but not the crux of the plot. The protagonist has a journey, a foe to face, a mountain to climb, an alien planet to explore .. whatever. And along the way they fall for someone.

All right, with that catch explained, let’s talk about romantic subplots.

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