The Punctuation Police?

punctuation-in-english

Discussions among writers about punctuation sometimes seem like an exercise in extreme nerdiness! All kinds of talk about Oxford commas, em dashes, colons and semicolons. But does it really matter?

The significance of the debate didn’t come to me from a writing group discussion, although it was one we talked about in a recent @rwchat.

I read a New York Times article about the problems court reporters have in understanding African American Vernacular English: link. The lack of comprehension had major consequences for freedom as opposed to incarceration, as well as life or death.

Court reporters are charged with accurately reporting witnesses’ testimony at depositions and trials. They produce transcripts which become the official record of court proceedings. Writers are merely tasked with writing for clarity; diction and punctuation are the means of making sure our words are understood.

I was struck by an observation. The linguists who did the study played audio recordings for the reporters. The researchers then asked the reporters to write what they heard and to paraphrase as well. But they had a difficult time doing each. Yet, the reporters weren’t asked to punctuate.

The article quoted a defendant’s statement: “I know that I didn’t do it so why don’t you just give me a lawyer dog ’cause this is not what’s up.”

Reading it, I thought about how punctuation might have made the difference in meaning, but that wasn’t even discussed. If I were writing, how would I punctuate a sentence like that in order to convey the character’s meaning?

In oral communication, it is easy to understand pauses and what they mean. In written communication, punctuation matters more because they are markers that help explain the meaning of words, phrases, and sentences.

So “eats, shoots and leaves” is hilarious, while “eats shoots and leaves” is a mundane observation which doesn’t evoke the same imagery: link.

A misplaced–or even nonexistent–comma can change a whole sentence’s meaning.

An earlier version of this article appeared in my local RWA chapter newsletter.

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

I am a member of various writing communities on twitter.

A host of one of the writing games came up with an ingenious one, to write a love letter to one’s work in progress.

Here’s what I came up with, except it’s in honor of all my works in progress and books:

__________________

Dear WIPs,

You keep me amused, excited, and enthusiastic to be with you and my characters on my journey. You keep my imagination working overtime.

😍😍,

Barbara.

P.S. I love how you have helped me find .

__________________

You can find me on Amazon: link.

Copyright Barbara James, all rights reserved.

 

Music and the Work in Progress

I might have mentioned that I’m currently using playlists on Spotify for my works in progress. In my books, I have tended to include references to the music that inspired me as I was writing. These are the songs that I thought might bring a scene full circle, but that is not always the case.

Sometimes a song inspires a scene, and it’s totally unexpected.

I’m at the gym a lot, I go to my local Planet Fitness. The gym’s management implemented a recent development of broadcasting music videos the patrons can watch on television screens. So when I’m not watching the news, I’m watching videos of the latest pop music.

I just love it. Sometimes I hear a song that draws me in some fashion. Perhaps it’s the name of the song, the melody, or the lyrics. Or all of the above. If the song appeals, I wonder whether it can fit into the Spotify playlist I have set up for each of my works in progress.

But when a song inspires a scene, it is as though I can’t get the song out of my head, because something about the song’s energy fits a scenario I imagine for my characters.

The latest source of my inspiration is one I can imagine will be the basis of the first chapter for the next work in progress. But I do not have the time to work on it now. I can only take notes and listen to Spotify.

My current hero and heroine are depending upon me, then my previous hero and heroine will be getting back to me soon.

I look forward to sharing my future updates.

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.

An Author in Search of her Character

Laurens e book cover resized

The newsletter editors of my Romance Writers of America chapter urged us to submit character interviews. I had fun imagining an interview with the heroine from The Wedding Bet: Lauren.

____________________________________________________

I get up from my seat in the Starbucks at Penn Station. “Lauren, it’s so good to see you!” I give her a hug and step back to take in her black slacks, red jacket and blue scarf. “I just love the outfit!”

“It’s good to see you as well.” She touches the scarf. “It’s a gift from Annelise (heroine of Starting Over: Rick). She and Rick were in town. Denise (heroine of Going Home: Roger) lives in New London too, so we all got together during the Christmas holidays. Lots of kids running round. Chaotic, but fun. Can’t complain. We’re all doing fine. How have you been?”

“I’ve been fine, the family’s fine. I’ve been getting to know some new characters. And you?”

“That’s great! I like Facebook, it’s good for keeping in touch with everyone, so I’ll check for your updates. Don and I, we’ve been married several years. The babies are getting bigger and I’m doing nursing part time. Gives me more time with them.” She takes out her phone to show me some photos.

I take it and study a picture of her with her children. “I love it, they are so adorable.” I return the phone to her. “They’re with Daddy this afternoon?”

She nods. “I’m sure they’re having some adventures. He’s so busy, it’s good whenever he can have down time with them. We’re still going strong. He’s doing great, getting promotions.” She smiles at a photo of him. “I just love how much he enjoys being a dad. Our family life is such a blessing.”

“It’s like a Hallmark movie.”

“And you made it possible for us!”

“So which television show would most resemble your life?”

“Something like Black-ish, I think.”

“I can see it! So if we made a movie of your life, who would star?

“Idris Elba as Don, it goes without saying! I would love it if Kerry Washington were to play me.”

“She’d be recognizable.” I notice the book she placed onto the table. “What are you reading?”

“Michelle Obama’s autobiography. Her story is so relatable.”

“I agree. She really speaks to so many women’s experiences.”

“That’s what I really like about you as our author! Perhaps it comes from your training as a clergywoman. Whatever it is, you understand us, our experiences and needs. Everything that has been important for us in getting our happily ever after. Like, you’ve always respected our privacy, giving us the closed door bedroom scenes we prefer. Annelise, Denise and I, we call you our honorary auntie!”

“Thank you, sweetie. That’s so lovely to hear.”

She hugs me. “You’re always welcome.”

We get our drinks and continue chatting until it was time for her to catch her train back to Connecticut.

Copyright, Barbara James. All Rights Reserved.

Writing Goals: 2019

I began writing the books in my sweet romance series in the spring of 2017. The first two books were out in August of 2017 and February of 2018.

I started Lauren’s book on New Year’s Day 2018, and somehow I thought I was going to get three manuscripts done during the course of the year.

It didn’t happen, but it wasn’t a major disappointment because I fell within my reasonable expectations. But I did have some delays in getting Lauren’s book out–the editing process took some time. In addition, I was learning and exploring other possibilities for publishing. But I was glad she finally came out right before Christmas.

I started my new inspirational series in the spring and I finished my first draft on New Years’ Eve. Delays again, I was hoping to finish during NaNoWriMo. But I pushed myself to meet my reasonable goal–based upon my experience to date–of finishing before the end of the year. The first draft is done.

So I began this year sitting in on the auditions of the characters who have been clamoring for my attention. They want to be the stars of the second book! Yes, it’s like that, as though I’m watching a stage with people coming and going. They read bits of dialogue and I see their prospective scenes.

I didn’t have this figured out until New Year’s Day. I grappled with it for several days! It was a cycle of reading, thinking, then thinking and reading again.

So I was outlining and interviewing my characters and only began writing on the third. The next heroine and hero are secondary characters from the current work in progress. The fun part is that one of them is more developed than the other. So I get to revisit them and see what they have been up to.

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.

New Release!

I’m excited to announce that Lauren’s book is finally available. Although the hero is Rick’s and Roger’s friend Don, I don’t think he minds that his story is being told from the perspective of his lady, Lauren Boucher.

So this is the third book in my sweet romance series, but it takes place in the year between Rick’s and Roger’s book. Lauren is one of Annelise’s friends, and Annelise, of course, is Rick’s lady.

Here is the link for getting Lauren’s book on Amazon.

See as well: Pinterest and Spotify.

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.

Laurens e book cover.

Traveling Light: A Writer’s Life?

I remember years ago having a fun chat with one of my pals about imagining traveling the world, but we could each carry only five things on us, just enough to fit into our pockets and with no luggage.

We came up with these five items: keys to whatever house we were each living in–or at least a storage compartment where we kept our stuff. In addition, we would need a passport, a credit card, a cash card, and a driver’s license. We figured that we could use our passports, credit cards and drivers’ licenses to go wherever we wanted to go and buy whatever we needed when we arrived. Whatever we didn’t want to carry, according to our no-luggage rule, could be sent back home by mail.

One month, two months, three months, who knows how long we would be gone.

I returned to this thought experiment in more recent days, and technology makes all the difference. If I were to imagine this today, I’d need not only those five things, but my technology! I would need a cell phone, some type of small notebook computer and chargers for each. One important new item would be a special travel jacket. Yes, folks I am so nerdy that I have thought about this.

Perhaps one that National Geographic photojournalists use, with enough pockets to carry all their stuff on them: Orvis.

But on a more practical level, I recalled this recently when I was away at a church conference last month. We were all checking out on the last day, there was a service taking place, and I was a participant. It was taking place outdoors, but I couldn’t carry my coat, since I was going to be wearing my vestments. I checked my luggage with the hotel staff, but what about the most important things I didn’t want to misplace? I was thankful for denims with deep pockets for my phone, wallet, keys, pen and note paper. I wore a wool hat, a hooded sweatshirt on top of my clerical shirt, a scarf on top of that, and finally, an LL Bean fleece jacket zipped up over everything. I only needed to be sure my clerical collar was peeking through.

All those years ago, I didn’t imagine what I would be doing as we traveled the world. Was I merely going to be a tourist? I think so. But if I had to talk to my younger self, I might have told her about becoming a travel writer. Or even a romance writer doing research on the ground. Historical novels, perhaps?

Alas, I have always been too practical to imagine the fanciful existence of traveling the world with only the clothes on my back. I’m firmly grounded in writing contemporaries, where my research is limited to the internet, and that is fine with me.

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.

ultimatejacket0
Isn’t this Orvis travel jacket so cool?

 

Building Character: Writing what you Know, Researching and Having Fun

The editors of my romance writers’ chapter newsletter gave us a writing prompt to consider in drafting essays for the November issue of the newsletter.

How do we build our characters and their fun habits? Inspiration can come easily to me, so I don’t think it’s too complicated.

Our characters’ basic personalities, where do they come from? At the most basic, we can write from what we know, and it’s fairly easy to do. We know ourselves. What are we like? What is our history? Do we want to create an alter ego and put her into our novels?

The people we are closest to, we know them fairly well, their personalities and histories. How can they inspire us in character building? Should we create alter egos for them as well? In addition, I think about other people I have known. What makes them fun or interesting? If I know them and their experience well enough, the writing flows easily.

I find that the more complicated aspects of character building require more research. If I’m not writing about something I’m familiar with, I have to learn more, not only to understand, but to make the character authentic. But of course, it must be something that really interests and motivates me to want to learn more and write from this new knowledge.

So where am I now? In my latest work in progress, I’m drawing upon my training in ministry, things I actually experienced and things I know about because I’m steeped in this world. It’s where I have a good number of connections nowadays. What might a young seminarian be doing in her day to day life that makes her life interesting or complicated? What might her coursework look like? What might be her challenges in dating? The things I have learned over the three years I was in formation and all that I knew even before I began the process, provides the foundation for understanding my heroine’s character and habits.

But it gets even better. This past weekend I attended a conference for clergy and lay people. This is a conference I have been attending for at least nine years. Included among them were people I knew in my ordination cohort and those behind me in the process. I spoke to two of them during the course of the weekend, but I must admit I wasn’t surprised at what I heard. I have known them for about four years. Nonetheless, this is what I tweeted when I returned: folks, this is a romance novel.

The details are too juicy to divulge, but I did reflect for a bit. So yes, my two young friends are finding their way. I wish them well. Their story certainly inspires me to write!

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.

Social Media anniversaries!

I’m looking up from my computer. Suddenly, I just realized that I am in the midst of some social media anniversaries. I’m so thankful I have found them and I’m thankful for all the opportunities for finding community.

My writers’ journey has been an amazing opportunity for growth.

When I began writing in the spring of 2017, I joined Goodreads. It was ideal for me, to participate as a reader as I was writing. I could post occasional notes regarding my blog essays and make note of books I was reading. I check for updates on a regular basis and participate in my groups. Once I have had releases available, I posted those as well.

Once Starting Over: Rick came out, Facebook was the next social media I thought about in the fall of 2017. It has been the ideal place for finding groups for writers and readers. I have learned so much from the other writers whose posts I follow and who have responded to mine. I remember when I was researching book covers for Going Home: Roger and considering changing Rick’s cover. I was able to post sample stock photos. The feedback was great.

Through a Facebook writers’ group, I discovered Twitter, and it has been the best. I joined on October 13. I post my updates daily, like, and follow other writers. I participate in the writers’ games. It has been especially useful and supportive as I have been in the midst of working on my latest works in progress, book 3 and book 4.

There has been one thing that has been bothering me about Twitter, though, how to post images as aesthetics. Twitter only permits one image at a time. So what was the answer? Today, I’ve been doing my research. I created a simple one for both book covers.

I’m including it here. Both books are available on Amazon, for $.99.Aesthtic Rick and Roger

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.

Subplots in Romance Novels

A recent romance writers’ group discussion inspired me to think about subplots in romance novels. It wasn’t a conceptualization I thought about much because I have always thought that the primary plot, of hero and heroine on the road to a happily ever after, was what mattered most.

But upon reading and thinking about the discussion points being made, I realized just how much I noticed subplots in the books I read and just how I used subplots in my own writing.

As a reader, I have noticed them the most in romantic suspense novels. The hero and heroine are on a quest of some type, one that is fraught with danger. Their struggle with their foe draws them closer and pushes the action forward. Through their journey and struggle to vanquish their enemy, they forge their happily ever after. This type of trope is common not only in contemporary novels but in some historical ones as well. The tension is built in, as are the growing edges between the hero and heroine. In subsequent books, other heroes and heroines might grapple with the same common enemy. The journey just represents their own take.

I’ve noticed a number of novels in series, in which a writer doesn’t write just one book in which the hero and heroine work towards their happily ever after, but the story takes place over several books. The books can appear subplot driven. Whenever I have read books of that type, I always wondered why the writer chose to draw out the novel over several installments. It just seemed odd and made me feel less satisfied. I reached the end of the novel but that wasn’t really the end. Book one was just one stage in the resolution of the subplot that paved the way towards the final resolution of the romance.

My favorite type of subplot involves the development of secondary characters who will then have their own stories in future novels. Those have always been my favorite types of novels to read, because I have always been curious about the people connected to the hero and heroine in interesting ways.  How were they developing during the course of the main characters’ happily ever after? How will those developments influence what happens in their own book? This is what I was doing in Starting Over Rick. Going Home Roger, and the Wedding Bet: Lauren (finally in the hands of the copy editor!)

Sometimes the secondary characters resolve their subplots in the course of the primary characters’ book and might even find their own parallel happily ever after. Upon reading those types of stories, I was glad to see their resolution, but I wondered why they didn’t have their own stories, especially if the story seemed to detract from the main one. I realize, though, that might be a writing convention, especially if the writer doesn’t have enough time to write a separate book.

Now that I’m interested in inspirational romances, I find that faith and faith-based struggles can be the bases for their own subplots, tensions and conflicts. A fairly common one is the life crisis that pushes questions of faith to the fore. Faith v. non-faith? Or the struggles of being in the ordination process (my current work in progress). The possibilities fascinate me.

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.