Irony: Pervasive punctuation errors in a blog post saying professional authors — real, serious-about-the-craft writers of any sort — always make sure their writing is free of errors.

Punctuation advice of the day: Do not add a comma after a conjunction at the beginning of a sentence.

Correct: And here we go again.

Incorrect: And, here we go again.

If you want a dramatic pause after the first word, use an ellipsis; that’s one of the things it’s for, after all: And… here we go again. Notice that there’s still no comma in the sentence.



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Auto-“Correct” Strikes Again! Ten more glitches…

Today’s glitches are (just like last time) all from a single source (the same one as last time), and all on one theme (sort of the opposite of the errors from last time).

Why does this always happen when I’m in a hurry? She wondered.

“Who are you?” Someone said to her.

“But you’re supposed to be there at seven!” She pointed out.

Why does he make me so nervous? She wondered.

“An escort?” She asked.

What was that? She wondered.

Is it me they’re after or someone else? She wondered.

Just what is it with these people? She wondered.

“Hey!” She called out.

Did he understand me? She wondered.

I should point out first that this kind of error can happen just from allowing auto-“correct” too much control. The editing program sees a question mark or exclamation point, and it thinks, This is the end of the sentence, so the next word must be capitalized. Much of the time, that is true, but when the sentence is a question (or exclamation) in dialogue followed by a tag… Nope. Not the end just yet.

That is probably what happened during the “copyediting” process for the novel all these examples came from. At any rate, I’d rather believe it was laziness (letting some computer program do all or most of the work) instead of incompetence (not knowing that the tag is part of the same sentence with the dialogue it belong to).

As written in the original version, wondering, pointing out, or whatever is a separate action from the utterance of the dialogue, even though that doesn’t work, because each tag is capitalized as if it were a new sentence. Every one of these errors, though, can be fixed simply by not capitalizing the first word in the dialogue tag. (Those are all real dialogue tags, not associated actions, so they do belong as part of the same sentence with the words spoken/thought.)

Why does this always happen when I’m in a hurry? she wondered.

“Who are you?” someone said to her.

“But you’re supposed to be there at seven!”she pointed out.

Why doe she make me so nervous? she wondered.

“An escort?” she asked.

What was that? she wondered.

Is it me they’re after or someone else? she wondered.

Just what is it with these people? she wondered.

“Hey!” she called out.

Did he understand me? she wondered.

So… one piece of advice and one punctuation rule: Don’t rely on auto-correct, and don’t completely trust any editing program, because these things makes stupid mistakes at times. Don’t capitalize the first word of a dialogue tag unless it’s the first word of the entire sentence. She said, “Who are you?” is correct, but “Who are you?” She said is not. See the difference?

(More on the problems with “machines wielding red pens” here.)








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“Dormice” and the cats who will play with them.

Disclaimer: They’re not dormice; they’re not any kind of real mice. The reason for referring to them as dormice comes from an old bit of backstory for one of the secondary characters in my twin’s novels… Honeyed dormice, specifically, that he (the character, not my twin) claimed were kept around as critter snacks, but some of us suspected that he ate the things himself sometimes.

Anyway, the photo below is of some mouse-shaped cat toys placed in a glass jar along with some catnip so they can soak up the smell of the herb. (There’s another jar of toy mousies with valerian in it, for the times when catnip isn’t enough.) Because they’re in a jar, we were reminded of the thing about the dormice…

Toy mice in a glass jar with catnip.

As the title of this post suggests, yes, there are more cat photos today, too.

Smudge Thistle, very small kitty. (Black and white cat on dark red rug.) Look at that face! She’s named Smudge because of the black smudge on her nose.


Tabitha Juniper, looking moderately annoyed by this disruption in her routine. (Tortie cat on top of bookshelf — background includes medieval-style helmet, war hammer, and piece of petrified tree trunk.)

Three kitties on a cat tree: Ashley (grey tortie at top), Logan (mostly white kitten), and Smudge (black-and-white cat, Logan’s mom).


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I don’t have one “glitch” for you; I have SEVERAL.

A week or so ago, I had this to say about the Very Bad Punctuation in — among other things — the dialogue tags in a novel I just finished reading: I blame the publisher’s in-house copyeditor, who may deserve to have a chair thrown at them. (It would even be thematically appropriate, especially if the chair is burnt-orange in color.)

Look, I get it: Typos happen, and even the best copyeditors will sometimes miss a few little things. (There’s a reason why the industry standard is just to keep the error rate below five percent, about one per page in the printed book.) If an error shows up once or twice, it probably is just an overlooked typo, but if it happens over and over, it’s — dare I say it? — a pattern. A very bad habit (even worse than my habit of making bad puns based on obscure fiction references). A sign of either ignorance or apathy, neither of which is a trait you want in a copyeditor.

So today I have a collection of “glitches” all taken from the same source (a science-fantasy novel by Charles Stross, who is not to blame for the bad punctuation). This batch is also all about a specific error in dialogue tags. (Some identifying words — names, unusual verbs, etc. — have been changed from the originals, but the punctuation is entirely as seen in the novel.)

“Obviously the scope for mistakes is –” he shrugged.

“I mean, getting sick –” she paused.

“Punishment –” she stopped. “You weren’t kidding.”

“Well –” her eyes narrowed.

“I –” she stopped.

“You’d have much more, but your inheritance –” he essayed a shrug.

“I think –” he watched her.

“Is she at risk? Because if so –” she realized that her voice way rising.

“I don’t –” she took a deep breath.

“Yes, yes –” the inkeeper hurried out.

“‘Uncle’–” he shook his head.

“Although –” he kissed her.

“Too stupid to –” she noticed [POV character’s] empty glass.

“Oh my –” she stumbled.

“You’re –” he swallowed.

“And then –” she shrugged.

“He could have told –” for a moment [POV character] looked wistful.

“You must be –” his eyes widened.

In each of these, the mistake is the same, and each one has the same solution. The “dialogue tag” isn’t a valid tag, but it would be fine if punctuated as a separate sentence describing an associated action. (A mini-lesson on jargon: A dialogue tag is the she said part of a sentence. It can contain additional details, such as she said with a smile, but she smiled is NEVER correct by itself as a tag. Instead, She smiled is an associated action — what some people refer to as beats, borrowing from screenwriting jargon and playing fast and loose with definitions.) Look at these corrected versions:

“Obviously the scope for mistakes is –” He shrugged.

“I mean, getting sick –” She paused.

“Well –” Her eyes narrowed.

“You’d have much more, but your inheritance –” He essayed a shrug.

“I think –” He watched her.

“Is she at risk? Because if so –” She realized that her voice way rising.

“I don’t –” She took a deep breath.

See how simple that was? The only change I made was capitalizing the beginning of each “tag” to make it a separate sentence.

Unless you’re new here, you already know how I feel about tags claiming that characters shrug sentences. (Yes, you can shrug as if to say whatever you want, but that’s not the same thing. You know it’s not the same thing.) A character cannot can’t widen his eyes a sentence; a character can stop speaking, yes, but stopping isn’t how she speaks.

The point of this post is not to embarrass or even complain (much) about the copyeditor responsible for all these mistakes. (It’s not as if Tor is going to listen to — or even know about — what I have to say about the apparent incompetence of one of their people anyway… But ohmigod, did they have some unpaid, gramatically clueless intern “correct” the punctuation and such in Mr. Stross’ manuscript?) The point of this post it to show examples found “in the wild” (in a published novel from a traditional publisher), and to explain both why they’re wrong and how to correct them, so future writers can avoid making similar mistakes in their own manuscripts (because obviously you can’t trust a publisher’s in-house copyeditor — assuming the publisher has one, which is unlikely these days — to catch and correctly fix any errors for you).

I’m sure you’re all just dying to know the source for this batch of “glitches.” It’s The Family Trade, the first book of The Merchant Princes series by Charles Stross. I have enjoyed the story and intend to read the rest of the series. I think I’d have liked it better if it hadn’t been deliberately and specifically compared to the series of novels that inspired it. Comparison tends to set up expectations in the reader, and… Well, there’s really not a strong resemblance — I was looking for one and still didn’t see it. *shrug* That’s the way to do it, though, right? Don’t make the similarities blatant… or even visible to the casual observer.





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Yes, it had to be cats.

I do have a “Writing Glitch”-type post for you today, but first, I’m sure you all want to know how the new housecats Smudge and Logan are doing, so…

The “thistle cats” are doing quite well. Logan has decided he likes “killing” shoe laces, dust bunnies, and pieces of paper. (He’s very good at it, too. No dust bunny is safe!) A few days ago, both new cats were introduced to… the shiny bug (laser pointer), and Logan learned how to attack “rabits” (feet) under a blanket. Catnip mousies have been found inside Paul’s boots, and we’re fairly sure it wasn’t IttyBitty (no longer the smallest cat in the house) who left ’em this time.

Smudge still wanders the house at night (and often during the day), burbling (like a Jabberwock, Paul says, and she does not use her “inside cat” voice) and calling to her kitten, because she doesn’t like letting him out of her sight. Logan, on the other hand, is eight or nine weeks old and has recently realized (as most cats do at this age) that he is, in fact, a fearsome tiger, so he wants to play, explore, and kill dust bunnies and shoe laces. Much to his annoyance, he’s too big to hide in any of Grace’s shoes.

As for how the other cats are taking all this… Well, it varies. Doodlecat has decided he’s okay, mostly, with having new cats in the house; he was the first to accept Stony (the Narrow Cat) when we were cat-sitting, so that’s no suprise. Calliope doesn’t care, because she can just jump up on furniture where Logan can’t follow. Ashley seems to have appointed herself the guardian of the little cat and the even-littler cat; for a couple of days she followed them around and kept watch over them. Floofycat doesn’t like the new cats, but then, Floofycat doesn’t like her own littermates, and she’s known them for nearly nine years.

I think some cats need to watch the Dear Kitten videos soon. 🙂

Speaking of dear kittens, here are a couple of photographs Grace took of Logan:

Logan Thistle, approx. two months old. (Mostly white kitten with dark grey tail and part of face.)


He’s cute, and he knows it… “See my little pink toe-beans? They match my little pink nose.”






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Sometimes, he uses Venn diagrams to explain comma usage.

Do commas really matter all that much? you may wonder.

Of course they do! (The previous sentence would have a different meaning if I’d written it as Of course, they do!) You’ve probably seen at least one of the many internet memes comparing “Let’s eat, Grandma!” and “Let’s eat Grandma!” That’s the difference made by using a comma to separate a direct address from the rest of a sentence, and it’s kinda obvious. On the other hand, what about commas and the nonrestrictive phrase? (Ooooooh, scary jargon! *shakes head*)

The following Venn diagram shows what happens when you use commas to make a nonrestrictive phrase (a phrase that can be omitted without changing the basic meaning of the sentence) where one doesn’t belong.


When who get along well with dogs is punctuated as a nonrestrictive phrase, the sentence is saying that cats — all cats, because there’s no restriction — get along well with dogs and small children. Anyone who knows anything about cats knows this is not true (which is why I used this example).

So what happens when we get rid of the commas?

Now the sentence is true… or at least it seems far more plausible. It now says that the cats who do get along well with dogs tend to get along well with small children, but nothing is stated or implied about other cats. (See how the cats who get along with dogs and children are a sub-set of all cats?) This is because who get along well with dogs is now a restrictive phrase, meaning it restricts (limits/narrows down from a broader category) the thing it describes.

This particular comma issue is on my mind today because I recently read an article about a group of people, and a sub-set of that group, but the article was written (punctuated, specifically) in a way that implies everyone in the larger group matches the description of the sub-set. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination (or maybe it does — I certainly don’t grok how average humans think) to see how this could cause a lot of harm for someone if they were assumed to belong to a group they’re not part of, or to have traits they don’t possess, simply because some writer misused a pair of commas.

I used the example about cats getting along with dogs partly because it’s not “political” or the sort of thing anyone would get angry about. If I’d used an example that dealt with a group of humans — those who vote a certain way, perhaps — someone would take offense at what I had to say about punctuation, because they’d assume I was endorsing the incorrectly punctuated version as factually true. Humans are so willfully stupid sometimes… *sigh* “Humans, who eat meat, have more bio-available protein in their diet.” See what a pair of misused commas can do? Obviously not all humans eat meat, but it’s what that sentence says; who eat meat “renames” humans without restricting that to only some humans.


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“Thistle Cats”

We (along with a sizeable percentage of the state) were without internet access all weekend and just got it back around four o’clock on Monday afternoon, so I’m still getting caught up and don’t have any bloggish rants about grammar for you…

But here’s a photo of kitties:

Smudge Thistle and her kitten Logan, the day before they became housecats.


The “thistle cats” have an appointment with the veterinarian to get their shots on Thursday afternoon, and then they can come out of quarantine and officially meet the other cats.




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