Category Archives: SMUG Monday

SMUG Monday: Capitalization

Important Words aren’t Capitalized for the Hell of It.

Here’s the basic run-down:

1. The first word in each sentence is capitalize–but you know that already.

2. In formal titles, the first word and each word longer than two letters (minus words like “the,” “and,” “but,” etc)

Example: How to Annoy Your Readers by Adding Random Capitalized Words

3. In informal titles, only the first word and proper nouns are capitalized.

Example: How to bestselling book in one weekend–thanks to NoDoz!

NoDoz is a proper noun, so it’s capitalized; How starts the sentence, so it remains capitalized, but none of the other words are, even though they’re in a title.

There are few rules dictating whether you use formal or informal titles. This is largely a matter of in-house style. I personally like formal titles, but many online newspapers and blogs have moved to informal style, like The Examiner.

4. Days of the week, months, states, countries, proper names are always capitalized.

Monday, January, Texas, Uganda, Johnny Depp

5. Proper nouns (an extension of Rule 4) are always capitalized. These are formal, official titles for things.

Captain Jack, the Microsoft corporation, Barnes & Noble, Aunt Betty.

6. Non-noun words are only capitalized if they’re in a formal title, starting a sentence, or part of a proper noun phrase. It doesn’t matter how important the modifier is, you’re not Emily Dickinson or ee cummings–they aren’t capitalized. Same goes for plain old nouns–their importance doesn’t matter.

Incorrect: The Purple Throne beckoned me to Sit in it; The Man Spanked her so hard she had a Handprint on her Ass.

Correct: The sun shone off the dark windows of the Hustler store; The experienced Dom brought his floggers and crops to Maison Domine for the weekend.

6. Words that are capitalized depending on the situation are the most challenging. The most frequent examples I come across occur when a word is used in place of someone’s formal name, like Mother instead of Deborah. But you only capitalize the word when you could use the proper name in place of the nickname and have the sentence still be accurate.

Incorrect: I refuse to let my Mother read my books. [I refuse to let my Deborah read the books doesn’t make sense, so Mother shouldn’t be capitalized]

Correct: “Guess what, Mother, I’m sending you on a trip to Europe because my royalty checks were huge this summer!” (yeah, don’t we all wish). Here, you could just as easily say, “Guess what, Deborah, I’m sending you…” so the capitalization is correct.

SMUG Monday: Paragraph breaks

White space on the page adds emphasis to the end and beginning of each sentence. Psychologically, white space makes the reader feel like they’re reading faster. This is an advanced, useful tool for any writer.

Take the following paragraph:

Version 1: Slowed down

When Kaily woke up that morning, she had no idea what the day held. If her precog ability had chosen to raise its fickle, fickle head, she would have hit the snooze button and skipped the morning entirely. Instead, she found herself face to face with a demon over the breakfast table, aching to reach for the wand she kept taped under her chair. She had the stashed all over the house for this very reason, although it had been a long time, months at least, since someone had sent a demon assasin to her. Had she only stayed in her well-warded bedroom, she’d have to clean up a broken kitchen, instead of a broken her. Shit.

There are a few ways it can be broken up, depending on where we want the emphasis placed.

Version 2: Minimalist

When Kaily woke up that morning, she had no idea what the day held. If her precog ability had chosen to raise its fickle, fickle head, she would have hit the snooze button and skipped the morning entirely. Instead, she found herself face to face with a demon over the breakfast table, aching to reach for the wand she kept taped under her chair. She had the stashed all over the house for this very reason, although it had been a long time, months at least, since someone had sent a demon assasin to her. Had she only stayed in her well-warded bedroom, she’d have to clean up a broken kitchen, instead of a broken her.

Shit.

I always like to have emphatic single-word “sentences” on their own line. It adds to the bitey tone of the word without having to add punctuation or narrative tags, like “Shit, she thought bitterly.”

Version 3: Speed reading

When Kaily woke up that morning, she had no idea what the day held.

If her precog ability had chosen to raise its fickle, fickle head, she would have hit the snooze button and skipped the morning entirely. Instead, she found herself face to face with a demon over the breakfast table, aching to reach for the wand she kept taped under her chair.

She had the stashed all over the house for this very reason, although it had been a long time, months at least, since someone had sent a demon assasin to her. Had she only stayed in her well-warded bedroom, she’d have to clean up a broken kitchen, instead of a broken her.

Shit.

The paragraph breaks mark thought transitions. Even when you add many paragraph breaks, you still need to keep similar ideas together!

Paragraph breaks should be deliberate. Think about what you want to emphasize, how fast you want your reader to absorb the content. And don’t forget that big blocks of text can be intimidating to a reader, and this is even more true in romance where readers are used to shorter, snappier paragraphs interspersed with larger amounts of dialogue.

The white space is your friend.

SMUG Monday: Comma Placement

Since most writing manuals (Chicago, MLA, APA, etc) change their rules slightly every year, there’s less and less point to memorizing specific rules for comma placement. Instead, read each sentence out loud. When you pause, add a comma.

The point of a comma, beyond separating phrases and clauses, is to give the reader a sense of how the author wanted the sentence to sound. This is another prime reason for comma flexibility–some are, in fact, optional! Separating parts of a sentence via comma places added emphasis on each part. If an author doesn’t want that emphasis, often times the comma can be removed.

Commas slow down a sentence, so when you want the reader to savor each phrase/clause, more (appropriately placed) commas are important. When you want the sentence to be read quickly, to reflect a characters racing thoughts or heartbeat, or to mimic more natural human dialogue, commas can be omitted–most of the time.

That being said, some commas are essential. We’ll review each situation below:

COMMA PLACEMENT:

When I went to the store I forgot to buy Trojan Magnum Condoms which put a dent in my weekend plans.

Version 1: When I went to the store [pause] I forgot to buy Trojan Magnum Condoms [pause] which put a dent in my weekend plans.

Version 2: When I went to the store I forgot to buy Trojan Magnum Condoms [pause] which put a dent in my weekend plans

Incorrect: When [pause] I went to the store I forgot to buy [pause] Trojan Magnum Condoms [pause–correct] which put a dent in my weekend plans.

The first version places more emphasis on “I forgot to buy…” because it’s offset from the rest of the sentence by commas. The second version places the most emphasis on “which put a dent in…” because it follows the only pause.

The incorrect version is reflective of when many people place commas in a sentence. When read out loud, it’s obvious the pauses are not correct; when most people write, however, they throw commas in where they THINK they’re supposed to go, not where they help the sentence cadence.

When, I went to the store I forgot to buy, Trojan Magnum Condoms, which put a dent in my weekend plans.

This may look correct. The writer may know the sentence needs commas. But they are not in the correct places.

Stop thinking about commas as following strict rules you must memorize. Start thinking of commas as representations of pauses when reading a sentence out loud.

SMUG Monday: Confusing word pairs (baited vs. bated)

These words don’t often come up unless you’re talking about fishing, hunting or master…nevermind.

BUT it is very important that you use them correctly.

BAITED: adjective or past tense verb (to bait)

  • Example: With the trap baited with bloody meat, I sat back and waited to catch my werewolf.
  • Example: I baited the hook and waited for Nessie to bite.

As a noun, BAIT is used thus:

  • Example: She is jailbait. (not jailBATE)

Bated is commonly used in one phrase: with bated breath. This is equivalent to describing someone who is holding their breath, either from fear or nerves or anticipation, and waiting for something to happen.

  • Example: When the sub misbehaved, she waited with baited breath for her Dom’s punishment.

As such, please do not write “with baited breath” or your reader might think she’s got worms on her tongue, trying to lure something in.

Finally….Fishermen are Master Baiters. Horny men and women are Master Baters (er…masturbators).

SMUG Monday: Compound Word Quickie

I love compound words (two words functioning together as a unit). They come in three flavors:

–words joined together without a space: homework, overdone

–words joined with a hyphen: red-headed girl, green-eyed boy

–words joined WITH a space between them: overly styled hair (overly modifies styled, they both together describe hair)

There is a certain amount of leeway allowed in the way you write certain compound words, mainly based on the style guide and dictionary used (bestseller vs. best-seller, anyone?).

But there is one hard and fast (or hard-and-fast) rule: never hyphenate compound words in which the first unit is an adverb. Most end in -ly, like overly, beautifully, or unfortunately.

SMUG Monday 4/25/11: Confusing word pairs (Leery/wary, weary)

One sure way to make others question your authority (yes, imagine Cartman’s voice there, please) is to confuse similar words. Granted, most people may not notice–but if your life, your career, involves words (like, say, writers) then you might want to insure that you speak with the utmost clarity and precision.

Let’s take this pair:

leery/wary–[adj] cautious, suspicious
weary–[adj] the state of being tired (literally or figuratively)/[verb] to become weary

Some sentences are written such that either word could make sense.

  • Example: “She was leery/wary/weary of her suitor’s Alphole behavior.”
  • note: leery and wary can be used interchangeably in all these examples*

However, if your sentences are more precise, then you may encounter serious reader confusion.

  • Example: “After making love that night, the Duke of Netherloin was wary of his beloved’s lusty, womanly cavern.”

Ick! Makes you wonder whether she’s got teeth down there. While the correct form (“weary of [her] cavern”) doesn’t say much for his staying power, it certainly doesn’t imply cannibalistic vaginas.

*Extra note: leery [adv] and leer [verb] shouldn’t be confused either. You get leery when the sketchy guy in the corner leers at you. If you leer at the guy and make him leery, well, you’ve got to work on your pick-up technique.

SMUG Monday: Pesky Apostrophes

This will be a short and sweet post because, well, there are very few rules for apostrophe usage. CAVEAT: Certain publishers will have in-house rules. These are the basics to follow, but don’t use them to argue with your editor. Please!

1. DO NOT USE AN APOSTROPHE TO MAKE SOMETHING PLURAL. I have two car’s is sooo wrong.

2. DO use an apostrophe with all contractions: they’re, that’s, we’ve, he’s, she’d, etc. all use apostrophes. Heck, even ain’t has one.

3. It’s means IT IS. It does not indicate possession. This is one exception to the possession rule (along with his and hers. Yes, hers does not have an apostrophe)

4. If it ends in a letter other than “s,” add ‘s to show something belongs to it. Example: Sally has a book. That is Sally‘s book.

5. If it is a plural noun that is not proper (i.e. not capitalized) and ends in an “s,” add an apostrophe to the end (yes, I know the grammar rules have gone back and forth between adding an apostrophe and add ‘s, but this is how they’re teaching it these days, per the Copyeditor’s Handbook). Example: The octopus’ lair.

HERE is where the real dissent lies.

6. Proper noun posession: We have many names that end in “s,” like Jesus and Moses and Socrates. The Chicago manual of style recommends using an ‘s for all proper names that end in “s” but do not have a “z” sound. Jesus’ and Moses’ are standarized forms of showing possession for those two names. Example: “That it Thomas’s book you’re holding” versus “That is Socrates’ book you have.”

NOTE: When in doubt and the word ends in “s,” simply add an apostrophe: “That is Thomas’ book you’re holding.” Since this rule is most subject to house style guidelines, you may end up making corrections under either guideline.

7. Plural possessives: add an apostrophe only. Example: That is the my parents’ car.

SUMMARY:

It’s (it is) funny that its (possessive) leaf is purple instead of green.

Bob Jones has a red car. That is Bob’s car.

Alexis Jones has a blue car. That is Alexis’s (or Alexis’) car.

The two cars both share a garage. That’s the cars’ garage. (not that inanimate objects can truly own anything)

Mr. Jones owns a red car. It is Mr. Jones’ red car.

The Mr. and Mrs. Jones own a blue car. That is the Joneses’ blue car.

***

Check back next Monday for more SMUGness, and if you’ve missed previous lessons, find them below. As usual, please post your SMUG questions for me to answer!

Introduction

Complete Sentences I

Capitalization