Wednesday, March 02, 2005

My Dichotic Soul

Blackjack! Twenty-one things I wish everybody in my creative writing class knew:
  1. If you trying to show that someone's being interrupted, use an em dash ( — ) and not an ellipsis. Ellipses show that the speaker is trailing off.
  2. Punctuation goes inside the quotes, not outside.
  3. Think about it: "I'm going to rip your head off," Judy said with malice. This is a little redundant. If Judy is threatening to rip your head off, she's obviously saying it with malice.
  4. Don't do this: "Hi Joe I'm Judy how are you?" Yes, it's one unit speech, more or less. But when you write it, break it up using punctuation. You know, those things that show up next to the letters but are smaller?
  5. Meet the enter key. He's your friend. He lives on the left side of your letters on the keyboard. When you hit him, he makes a new paragraph. He likes making new paragraphs because doing so makes your story easier to read. People don't like chunks of text that stretch for half a page.
  6. Don't use semicolons if you don't understand them.
  7. The grocer's apostrophe. Not "Look! I see two donkey's!" Use "donkeys" instead. A lot of people think proper nouns should take apostrophes if your pluralize them — "Look! I see two Judy's!" — but just adding an "s" usually works just as well. ("Look! I see two Judys!")
  8. About numbers: if the number is small, write it out. If it's long — for example, 265,246 — then it's okay to use the numerals because it's hard to read otherwise. But if the sentence is "Margo went to the store and bought a carton of milk and 6 eggs," don't you think using the numeral looks a little lazy? I do. Seriously, you're not that fucking busy that you can't hit s-i-x. When I write, I write out any numbers that I can express in three words or less, excluding years and amounts of money. I think that's a good rule.
  9. Appendix to the previous rule: Although I'd prefer you write your numbers my way — and, honestly, do everything else my way, since we're on the subject — I think it looks fine as long as you standardize it. If all your numbers are in numeral form, that's fine. It looks hasty to me, but at least it's uniformly hasty.
  10. Like this: 6 a.m. or 11:33 p.m. Not like this: 6am or 11:33pm or even 6:00 a.m., since the zeroes are totally superfluous.
  11. And technically, 12 a.m. and 12 p.m. are wrong. When you think about it, "ante meridian" means "before the halfway point" and "post meridian" means "after the halway point." And if twelve on the dot is the halfway point, you're not really before or after it. "Noon" and "midnight" work better, so use them instead.
  12. Don't italicize words for emphasis. When you do this, I feel like you're leaning over my shoulder, whispering, "Hey! Drew! I want you to stress this word when you read it." If you wrote the sentence properly, I should be able to read is the right way. If not, no big loss. And get the hell out of my head during my private reading time.
  13. Don't write out everything. If someone's making ramen, don't tell us the steps to making ramen unless they're important to the story.
  14. While I'm there, don't write about ramen in general. No one cares.
  15. Proofread. If you're trying to pass something off as a formal composition, it should be proofread. (This journal, I'll note, is not a formal composition and is never proofread. I'm not handing it out to class. That's why.) If you don't know what "proofread" means, find someone who does and have them proofread for you.
  16. Look up words you're not sure about. (I'd start with "proofread.")
  17. Just because you can use an adverb doesn't mean you should use an adverb.
  18. Hyphens are fun. Learn about them. If that sounds boring, pretend you're looking up "hymen," but still type "hyphen."
  19. If you're writing about something with which you have no personal experience, please Google this thing and gain a base understanding of it.
  20. If someone notes that a certain sentence is grammatically wrong in the first draft of your story, you'd better have a good reason for not changing the error in the second draft.
  21. Don't be a shithead. In fact, if any of the above rules are too hard to follow, just throw them out and obey this last rule. Whenever you do something, ask yourself if you're going to appear shithead-like. This will save you, me and everybody else a lot of grief in the long run.
I write this list not because I think I'm a great writer. On occasion, I'm good. Other times, I'm wordy and confusing.

However, thanks to Catholic school and Mrs. Gaylord, I know something about grammar and I really wish you'd listen to me. I actually minored in Editing and I get paid to edit things. You don't, I'll wager. I bring up good points, more or less, and if you'd follow even some of these rules, I think your writing would be better. Nitpicky psychos like myself would be able to read your piece and appreciate its content rather than tripping over every misplaced modifier and stray comma.

(I should have written this at the beginning of the quarter.)


  1. Anonymous12:27 AM

    are u student or the teacher? (of the class)

  2. Anonymous3:35 AM

    Regarding #11:

    Astronomically speaking, the "meridian" refers to the time of day when the sun is at its highest in the sky (i.e. midday, or noon). So, 12 hours before that (12 a.m.) is midnight, and 12 hours after that (12 p.m.) is also midnight, but for a different day. That's the main reason why "a.m." and "p.m." should never be applied to noon or midnight. When I see "12 a.m." or "12 p.m." in print, it bothers me in a way I can't really describe without anguished facial expresions, especially if it's in a newspaper, which is theoretically trying to help you understand rather than confuse you further.

  3. Anonymous9:20 AM

    The official rule of thumb in this day and age is to write out any numbers above ten. It's easier on the lazy eyes of the world. If you haven't seen the link Sanam had in her profile and pretended like she found (when, in fact, I found it) you should check it out and advertise it. (

  4. Anonymous8:41 PM

    actually, punctuation goes out side the quotation marks when the part quoted is part of the sentence, not the sentence itself. For instance, as an example:
    I hate when people don't get that I'm being "funny".

    :) C'mon Drew, you should know that!

  5. Anonymous9:19 PM

    Actually, a lot of American writing styles prefer to put the punctuation inside the quotes, no matter what the case. Check out the last rule at for info on this.

  6. Anonymous2:04 AM

    Writing out numbers above 10 is not an official rule of thumb. (Anyway, it should be the opposite; write out numbers below 10). The rule of thumb is that small numbers are written out whereas larger ones are not. The specific cutoff point, however, is debatable. For example, although AP says numbers 10 and over are figures, the Chicago Manual of Style has people write out 100 and smaller.

  7. Yeah, I think Morgan got the rule wrong. According to the site she posted, it does say the opposite of what she said for numbers. And while were picking the fuck out of these nits, is there such thing as "an official rule of thumb"?