Posts Tagged ‘On the Victory Trail’

Let’s Talk Grammar and Punctuation for a While

(Post Number Ten)

“The Quirky Quotation Marks”

“What can I say about quotation marks?” Marsha says. “If you are a fiction writer, you need to master the technique of using quotation marks. However, over the last few years, many publishing companies of nonfiction works have asked authors to incorporate ‘fiction’ techniques in their manuscript. That entails using quotation marks, mostly in dialogue, correctly.”

Of the many times I’ve seen quotation marks used incorrectly, the following example is the most misuse I’ve noticed:

Bad Example: Bert yelled to his son Raymond in the back yard, “Throw the ball, son”.

Folks tend to want to put that period AFTER the quotation marks at the end, but it is incorrect. The proper usage is as such:

Good Example One: Bert yelled to his son Raymond in the back yard, “Throw the ball, son.”

The same goes for the use of quotation marks with question marks and exclamation points:

Good Example Two: After lunch Eva asked her friend Bonnie, “Would you like to go shopping?”

Good Example Three: When Bobby saw his puppy fall off the sofa, he yelled, “Watch out, Scruffy!”

Another frequent abuse of quotation marks occurs in a series when words that need the marks are listed. The following example shows how the list should be correctly written:

Good Example Four: Last year, our writers’ conference featured workshops entitled “Write an Irresistible Query,” “Kiddie Lit for Toddlers,” and “It’s Time for an Agent.”

But what about double quotes in the same sentence? You might be thinking, How do I write them? Well, here’s how the CMOS says to use double quotes:

Good Example Five: Barney said to his cousin Elmo, “You must have heard cousin Heathcliffe say, ‘We’re going to the shore on Friday.’ ” (Note the period, the single quote, a space, and a double quote.)

I’m sure it is no surprise to you that there are exceptions to using quotation marks with other punctuation marks. The English language is one big exception, if you ask me!

Anyway, here are some examples of when the quotation marks go INSIDE the ending punctuation mark:

Example One: Harry subscribed to “The Pennsylvania Magazine”; he loves the pictures. (A work that needs quotes around its title)

Example Two: The sergeant asked Private Botting to state his “name and serial number”; he forgot his serial number and got in big trouble. (A phrase that is a direct quote)

Example Three: Which of Shakespeare’s characters said, “All the world’s a stage”? (A question asked with a quoted statement within it)

Example Four: Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3).  (The period follows the Bible reference.)

Example Five: I can’t believe Pauline said, “I’m leaving tomorrow at five in the morning”! (The exclamatory statement was made by “I” not “Pauline.” Therefore, the exclamation point comes AFTER Pauline’s quote.)

Example Six: How can teachers motivate students to learn who constantly say, “I hate school”? (The entire sentence is a question; therefore the question mark comes AFTER the quotation mark at the end.)

There are other uses of quotation marks and exceptions, but I’m thinking this blog is enough to confuse even the best writers in the land. If you have doubts, go online to the CMOS and check out your quotation mark question firsthand.

Next time we’ll look at perky parentheses and bold brackets, which will just about wrap up our series of blogs offering punctuation advice for writers. Then we’ll move on to another venue in the fascinating world of writing and publishing.

Happy writing!


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Let’s Talk Grammar for a While

The Snippy Semicolon

Next to apostrophes, I’d say semicolons are probably the most misused punctuation marks used in the English language. I dare say most people aren’t really sure what to do with the little period with the comma dangling underneath, so they either guess, and guess wrongly, or they avoid using the punctuation mark altogether, which is probably a wise decision.

Sometimes semicolons can be used in a long series when commas are also needed, but this is such an unusual complex situation, I don’t think we even need to go there today. This information might be useful to someone who’s possibly writing a textbook on the classification of flora and fauna, but it’s not needed for the average writer. So let’s look at the two times when a semicolon is preferred in “normal” writing:

  1.  Sometimes when you have two compound sentences closely related, you can use a semicolon instead of a period and a capital letter to separate them:

Example: Mary decided to remodel the kitchen; she purchased new linoleum first.

Example: George booked a midnight flight to Paris; but his flight was cancelled due to snow.

Now, you’re probably wondering why you can’t just use a period and a capital to separate these sentences in the examples. Well, you can. It’s a writer’s preference. Often it might just add a little flavor to your voice to throw in a few semicolons instead of brand new sentences, especially when the two sentences are so closely related. Also, in the second example, there’s no reason why you couldn’t separate the two compound sentences with a comma either. Again, it’s the writer’s preference. Here’s the next common use for the semicolon:

  1. Use a semicolon to separate two clauses of a compound sentence or two compound sentences when divided by an adverb such as: however, then, thus, hence, indeed, besides, accordingly, and therefore. This example is the one I see misused the most. Here are some correct uses:

Example: Jack bought me a birthday gift; therefore, I sent him a thank-you note.

Example: I thought I was adopting a nice calm dog; however, Bailey is a little furball of energy!

Example: I started my Christmas shopping early; hence, I was done by December 15th.

IMPORTANT! Always remember to add a comma after the adverb!

So, there you have the two most common uses of the semicolon. Spruce up your writing by using it once in awhile; but use the little rascal correctly!

Next time, we’ll discuss everyone’s favorite punctuation mark—the overused comma!




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I would say that apostrophes are probably the most misused punctuation marks used in the English language. I constantly see them abused on bulletin boards, road signs, store ads, mailboxes, and all kinds of other literature in the mail. What is it about that squiggly little mark that frustrates folks to no end?

Well, the biggest problem is that most people never pay any attention in their English classes in school to learn how to use the little buggers correctly. The second reason they are so misused is because it’s just so easy to do so. And I must admit that some of the rules for usage are a little complicated. So let’s look at a few of the common mistakes we see with apostrophes:

  1. Right: It’s a shame you can’t remember how to use the apostrophe. (It’s stands for “it is.”)

Wrong: Its a shame you can’t remember how to use the apostrophe.

  1. Right: The dog chewed its bone apart in ten minutes.

Wrong: The dog chewed it’s bone apart in ten minutes. (Remember that it’s stands for “it is.”)

  1. Right: The Hublers live in Middleburg.

Wrong: The Hubler’s live in Middleburg. (That apostrophe makes the name possessive and refers to one Hubler. And what does the one dear Hubler own? Nothing in this sentence; therefore, the apostrophe shouldn’t be used. This is probably the most abused punctuation mark of any.)

  1. Right: The Hublers’ house is in Middleburg. (If you are referring to more than one Hubler.)

Wrong: The Hubler’s house is in Middleburg. (Only is correct if you are talking about one Hubler, but you wouldn’t say, “The Hubler’s house …”)

  1. Right: The kitten’s toy is a stuffed mouse. (Referring to one kitten)

Wrong: The kittens’ toy is a stuffed mouse. (This refers to more than one kitten. Does it make sense to say that more than one kitten has the same toy? I guess if you’re talking about a litter of kittens, but let’s not stretch the truth to extremes here.)

Next, example number six is another very misused form of the apostrophe. I see so many signs and announcements with apostrophes used when the word should be only the plural.

  1. Right: Hoagies Sold Here! (Plural: hoagies)

Wrong: Hoagies’ Sold Here! (The hoagies’ what are sold there? The apostrophe used here means that the hoagies own something. What do they own?)

  1. Right: Mary said you’re going to church with me. (You’re stands for “you are.”)

Wrong: Mary said your going with me.

  1. Right: Robert Burns’s poems are famous. (In some quarters, Burns’ is acceptable too)

Wrong: Robert Burnses poems are famous.

  1. Right: The children’s recess period ended at ten. (Always write the plural first, then add the apostrophe at the end.)

Wrong:  The childrens’ recess period ended at ten.

  1. Right:   The writers’ conference was held in July. (Also acceptable is “writers conference” with no apostrophe)

Wrong:  The writer’s conference was held in July. (There was only one writer in attendance?)

And just for clarity’s sake, let me share a few more tricky words that sometimes do and sometimes don’t get apostrophes:

          CDs              DVDs      dos and don’ts

no ifs, ands, or buts

          ABCs          VIPs            the 1970s

         the Joneses (Plural, not possessive)

        two Toms, three Dicks, four Harrys

        moose’s (the same for singular + plural)

There are lots of other examples of how the poor apostrophe is misused, but these that I’ve mentioned are the blatant ones.

If you’re having problems with apostrophes, feel free to print this info and use it when you’re in a pickle, wondering what you should do. It’s a good thing to master if you’re into writing.

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 God told you to write your book, and it’s fine the way it is.

You don’t have the time. You have to clean the refrigerator and watch the grass grow.

You don’t have the money. Your Bowser says he’s out of bacon bites and sausage treats.

You don’t know how to get to Montrose. All the airports are closed, your GPS is on vacation, and MapQuest is being updated.

You can’t find your manuscript on your computer: (no further explanation needed).

You feel the faculty members have nothing to help you because you know everything there is to know about writing.

You don’t knead anyone to edit yore wirk because your reel good with grammer and speling. You got a C+ in high school Englsih, and that’s good enuff.

Your Aunt Izzy read your book, and she thinks it’s the most wonderful thing she’s ever read.  She’s going to give you the money to self publish it.

You’ve revised your manuscript twice, and you don’t need any smart alec editor telling you to change it AGAIN!

You haven’t been published yet, so you’ve decided to quit writing. After all, you’ve been doing it three months already, for gravy’s sake!


Access to the registration form is at the bottom. 

CHECK IT OUT AT http://www.montrosebible.org/OurEvents/tabid/113/page_550/1/eventid_550/58/Default.aspx 

I’d love to see you there next week!


Best-selling Author of the Keystone Stables books

(Web) www.marshahubler.com

(Horse Facts Blog)



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November 30, 2015

Fiction That Wows Your Reader (Part 8)

Stiff Unnatural Dialogue or Natural Dialogue?

Whether you’re working on fiction or nonfiction, one of the techniques you need to master is how to write dialogue that flows and sounds “natural.” In other words, do your characters’ words read as if your reader is eavesdropping on a conversation that he’d hear anyplace in his own world or is the dialogue so stilted, it sounds like two robots reading from a high school English text?

It’s very important for a writer to get to know his/her characters for this exact reason. People talk differently!

WOW! What a revelation! If you’re a smart writer, by now, if you’ve been writing for any length of time, you’ve (hopefully) studied language patterns and colloquialisms and you’ve analyzed the difference in children’s, teens’, and adults’ speech.

Let’s look at a few samples to show some stiff and and then some natural dialogue. Because I have been published mostly in the juvenile fiction genre, my examples will be from that genre. But the “talking points” are basically the same for all dialogue, whether for kids or for grown-ups.

First, I’ll give you a sample of “stiff” dialogue, followed by that which flows and sounds just like “real” folks speaking. Watch for the Leave it to Beaver Syndrome to rear its ugly head in the first samples, as well:


 Stiff: (Two young boys discussing buying eagle feathers)


  “Titus, you cannot buy an eagle feather,” Tim said.

   “Tim, why can’t I?” asked Titus. “Are they too expensive?”

   “No, Titus,” Tim answered. “Buying an eagle feather is against the law.”

   “Tim, is it because eagles are almost extinct?” Titus asked.

    “Titus, that is correct,” Tim answered. “The only people who can own an eagle feathers are Indians.”

(Brother! What kid says, “That is correct”? And why not use contractions? We use them all the time in our speech. And why the use of so many tags? There are only two characters in the scene. Let’s get rid of some of those ___ said tags.)


        “Sorry, old pal,” said Timothy, patting (Titus) on the shoulder. “There’s no way you can buy an eagle feather.”

        “Why?” asked Titus. “Too expensive?”

        “No. It’s against the law.”

        “What? You mean because eagles are an endangered species?”

        “Bingo,” Timothy replied. “The only people who can own eagle feathers are Indians.”


By Elspeth Campbell Murphy, Bethany House, 1995, pp.16-17)



 Stiff: (Conversation between two teenage junior counselors at a camp)

       “Timothy!” Skye called to her co-worker out on a paddleboat with a camper. “How is the water out there?”

       “It is just so wonderful,” Tim yelled back. “I would like to be swimming today. Who is standing next to you there on shore?”

       “It is a friend of yours and mine,” Skye yelled to Tim. “I will have him wait for you here until you come ashore.”

       “That is fine with me. I will see you in a few minutes,” Tim yelled to Skye as he turned the paddleboat around and headed in another direction.

(Sheesh! They sound like a couple of robots, don’t they?)


     “Hey, Tim!” Skye called to her co-worker out on a paddleboat with a camper. “How’s the water?”

     “Cool! Real cool!” Tim yelled back. “I’d rather be in it than on it! Who’ve ya got there with you?”

    “Your friend and mine! He’ll be waitin’ when you come ashore!”

    “Okay, Skye, see you in a few minutes!” Tim turned the paddleboat in another direction.



By Marsha Hubler, Zonderkidz, 2009, p. 38)


 So, there you have two simple examples of how to write lousy dialogue and how to make it flow naturally. Get rid of some of those tags and use some beats instead. Now, if you’re writing about robots conversing, then the first samples are the way to go. If not, then work on making your dialogue flow, and your reader will love being right in the middle of the exciting action.

* NOTE: If you’re a published author and would like to be featured on my blog, please contact me. I’d love to post your picture, a short bio, and your credentials along with contact information.

Marsha (Web) www.marshahubler.com

(Writers Tips) www.marshahubler.wordpress.com

Montrose Christian Writers Conference http://www.montrosebible.org/OurEvents/tabid/113/page_550/1/eventid_550/58/Default.aspx

(Horse Facts Blog) www.horsefactsbymarshahubler.wordpress.com


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