Friday, June 29, 2012

Historical Present Tense

It's all right to use the historical present tense.

We also call it the historical present, narrative present, or dramatic present. It means we use the present tense to narrate or tell past events. We use the historical present to make past events seem more dramatic.

* In The Grapes of Wrath, Tom Joad is walking across the cracked, water-starved fields after his release from prison.

* In the classic film, Casablanca, Elsa asks Sam to play "As Time Goes By." At first he refuses.

Either example could have been written in simple past tense. This is your choice as the writer. "In The Grapes of Wrath, Tom Joad walked across. . .”

I may choose the historical present tense 
if it makes a past event more dramatic.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Using the Ellipsis and Brackets (Part 2 of 2)

Think of brackets [ ] as clarifiers. You use them in two ways. First, you substitute words and put them within the brackets to make clear to readers what you mean and that you modified the original statement.

* "Although my favorite author [Edgar Allan Poe], is best known for his dark poems and short stories," Marnie wrote in her report. The original sentence began "Although my favorite author, he is . . ."

* "Then [Jesus] told them a story: "A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops . . ." (Luke 12:16, New Living Translation). The translation reads, "Then he told . . ."

Second, you point out a linguistic irregularity, spelling error, or grammatical mistake you want to correct when you quote. When you change a quotation you follow the irregularity with the Latin sic in brackets to indicate the questionable words. Sic means "intentionally so written," and grammarians have used it for more than 150 years.

* "None of the students [sic] in my class complained," the teacher wrote to the school board. Her original sentence began: None of the twenty-seven, multi-cultural children and seven teens in my class . . .

* "I don't want anything [sic] except justice," the old man wrote in pencil on lined paper. He wrote, "I don't want nothing," and the brackets corrected his grammar.

I use brackets to clarify meanings. 
They are not substitutes for parentheses.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Using the Ellipsis and Brackets (Part 1 of 2)

The ellipsis has two functions. First, it's used in quoted material to shorten the material. You indicate that you have deleted words you consider unimportant for the point you wish to make.

We used to write the ellipsis using three periods without spaces, but the industry trend is to put a space before each period.

You use a four-period ellipsis at the end of a sentence. The ellipsis is still three periods and the fourth is the end of the sentence. Think of it as a period following an ellipsis.

* Butler's report stated, "We will run out of . . . fossil fuels in thirty-five more years."

* "Even when I walk through the darkest valley . . . you are close beside me" (Psalm 23:4, New Living Translation).

* "Comfort the discouraged . . . . Be patient with everyone." (1 Thessalonians 5:14 Common English Bible). The fourth period is to show the end of the sentence.

The second use of the ellipsis, as shown below, is to indicate a pause or hesitation.

* What I mean to say . . . is I don't want to think about it.

* His father was . . . let's say not kind . . . but he worked hard.

Because I know the rule about ellipses, 
I use them properly.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Was That Meant Parenthetically? (Part 3 of 3)

Besides parentheses, we also use commas to set up parenthetical statements, transitional expressions, and mild interjections.

* His research indicates, surprisingly, that caffeine has healthy qualities.

* He tells his story chronologically, except the account of his accident.

* A severe frost, quite early for August, wiped out the tomato crop.

Here is where the intention of the writer makes the difference. In the examples above, I could have substituted dashes if I wanted to stress the interruptive elements. I decided that I didn't want to put the emphasis on the parenthetical expressions. The first sentence could have read: His research indicates—surprisingly—that caffeine has healthy qualities.

Parenthetical expressions, set off by commas, 
are "asides," and add interesting-but-not vital information.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Was That Meant Parenthetically? (Part 2 of 3)

The dash has deposed the parenthetical expression, although they are not the same. The dash signals an added or interrupting thought. The parenthesis (with interesting information) contains less important information while the dash emphasizes the addition.

* Martin finally arrived—disheveled and drunk.

* During her entire life—99 years—Anna never tasted alcohol or ate pork.

* His autobiography—if you choose to glorify it with that word—came out in print in 2011.

* The White Sox have a good chance to win the pennant—if they can beat the Orioles.

The dash seems to have become the most overused mark of punctuation. Use it sparingly and it's effective; use it too often and it makes the writing trite or overwritten.

Consider this example of overuse: After we looked for poor Mitsie—for at least an hour—we found her—shivering in the rain. We carried her into the house—really the back porch—and wrapped her in a thick, woolen blanket—an older one that we could throw away.

The dash interrupts a thought 
for emphasis. I'll use it carefully.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Was That Meant Parenthetically? (Part 1 of 3)

The parenthesis has largely disappeared from informal, commercial writing. Remember that parentheses always come in pairs—before and after the punctuated material. They include explanations, digressions, and examples that, although helpful or interesting, aren't essential for the meaning of the sentence.

* The theater tickets (ranging in price from three dollars to twelve) will go on sale Friday.

* Edna is a troublesome guest because she's allergic to all my favorite snacks (like chocolate, popcorn, and potato chips) and complains because I don't like what she prefers to eat.

The dash (composed of two typed hyphens) has become a strong punctuation mark with most commercial writers and has largely replaced the parenthesis.

If you delete the parenthetical expressions, the sentences make sense and still convey the information you want. 

I use parentheses to include information 
that isn't vital for the intended meaning.

Friday, June 8, 2012

More Writing Tips (Part 5 of 5)

When writing a series, go from the lesser to the greater. We do this to build the significance of the statements.

* For the next hour, Merlin paced the room, screamed with impatience, and shifted his weight from one foot to the other. The order is ridiculous, so we start with the lesser action which is probably shifting his weight, and we end with a scream.

* He disliked peppers, loathed celery, and tolerated peas. If you think of the emotional level, tolerated seems the most benign, followed by disliked.

When I write a series of actions 
I begin with the lesser and move to the greater.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

More Writing Tips (Part 4 of 5)

Use chronological order. You need to arrange a series of events according to the time they occurred, beginning with the earliest events. Bette Davis won the Oscar in 1938 for her role in Jezebel and in 1935 for her performance in Dangerous. Common sense says to start with 1935.

* He snacked at 3:00 in the afternoon, 9:00 in the morning, midnight, and at odd hours before dawn. Start with 9:00, which is the earliest.

* He stared at his childhood pictures, showing him when he was a year old, nine months old, sixteen, and seven. The way to correct this one is probably obvious.

When I list time events, 
I put them in chronological order, 
beginning with the earliest date.

Friday, June 1, 2012

More Writing Tips (Part 3 of 5)

Avoid faulty parallelism.

This means that when you put words in a series, they need to match (or parallel) the grammatical structure.

Marlene ate chili, chicken, peas, and sliced her bananas. The last item, sliced her bananas, isn't parallel.

You can correct it this way: Marlene ate chili, chicken, peas, and bananas. Or you could write, Marlene ate chili, chicken, and peas. After that, she sliced her bananas.

When I write a series of words, 
each word will match the grammatical structure.