Monday, September 24, 2012

Commas and Clauses

David Powers King's blog post about commas had me thanking the universe another writer was as crazy about commas as I am. (Crazy in a good way, David.) So I felt inspired to share the number one comma mistake I see in writing and how to correct it.

This mistake I see involves separating a "two part" sentence--the two parts involving either independent or dependent clauses.

What's the difference between the two? On its own, an independent clause can be a complete sentence, whereas a dependent clause cannot.

So let's dissect the following sentence:
  •  Mary had a little lamb and ate him for dinner. (Yes, I had a stroke of genius with this one.)

"Mary had a little lamb" is an independent clause because it has a subject and a verb, therefore making it a complete sentence in its own right.

"ate him for dinner" is a dependent clause because it can't stand alone as its own sentence.

When you have a sentence in "independent clause, dependent clause order," you DON'T NEED A COMMA to separate the clauses. So the example I have above is punctuated correctly. (EDIT: The exception to this rule is in cases where you have extreme contrast between the clauses, like when the dependent clause is preceded by "but," "although," or "except"--then you'd use a comma to separate the clauses.)

However, when you have TWO independent clauses in a sentence, they need separation by a comma.

For example:

  • Mary had a little lamb, and she ate him for dinner.

The addition of "she" gave the second half of the sentence its subject, therefore making it an independent clause and justifying the dividing comma.

HOWEVER, exceptions to "two independent clause comma" rule may be granted for sentences short enough that a comma would muddle their appearance. If I had the above example sentence in my novel (please let that never happen!), I probably wouldn't use the comma because that sentence is so brief.

So now let's flop things around. What if we started a sentence with a dependent clause followed by an independent clause? In all cases, you'd need a comma to separate the clauses. Remember, dependent clauses depend upon the other part of the sentence for complete meaning and can't stand alone. Here are some examples:

  • Eating him for dinner, Mary had a little lamb.
  • If Mary had a little lamb, she would eat him for dinner.
  • When Mary had a little lamb, she ate him for dinner.
  • As Mary had a little lamb, she ate him for dinner. 
  • Because Mary had a little lamb, she ate him for dinner.

There is no exception to this rule. No matter how brief the sentence, you must use a comma.

Hopefully this helps in your quest to conquer the confusing comma. May the grammar gods be with you!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Why I Write

Call me Pandora
I used to act in plays all the time, then as I had each of my three children, I began declining those opportunities. Being in a play usually equates to six weeks of rehearsals, three hours each evening, and (where I live) 4-6 weeks of performances. That's hard on moms and kids. By the time my youngest child was one, I hadn't performed in three years. I was still heavily involved with theatre, helping my drama teacher husband build sets, order costumes, find props--but I wasn't creating something that spoke to me, something that I could give and communicate to the world.

During that time, I stumbled on a box of old journals, poetry and short stories from years past, and I realized how vital writing had been in my life (though I didn't know it at the time). And I got that innocent and explosive idea (you writers know the one I'm talking about)--the one that says, "Hey, I could write a novel." Yes, I opened Pandora's Box. There were definitely demons in there, but there was also this raw, untapped part of myself bursting with ideas and an obsessive and unquenchable thirst to create.

Here's why I started to write back then:

  • As mentioned above, I desperately needed a creative outlet. I am an artist, through and through.
  • I needed to heal, physically, mentally, spiritually. I was in recovery from donating a kidney. And while writing truly did heal the aftereffects of that particular event, it opened up a whole new set of insecurities and challenges.
  • I needed to feel control. We had just moved to the other side of the U.S. My husband had a new and demanding job. Everything was different. And even though things were good, there was so much change, which led to lots of stress. My imagination was a realm I naively thought I could control. Little did I realize what power struggles I'd have with my characters!
  • I wanted a new challenge. I was crazy insane busy back then, but I wanted a struggle of my own choosing. It had to do with being proactive about something I wanted, rather than just doing the million-and-one things I needed to do.

Guess what? I still write for these very same reasons. However, here are some other reasons that have been added to the mix:

  •  I write because I'm supposed to. Because I promised myself I'd get in 1000 words a day. The truth is, sometimes we writers don't feel like writing. But because it's important, we get our butts in the chair. Sometimes the duty sucks pleasure from the desire, but I try to strike a balance.
  • And--uh, oh--the WORST reason: I write because I hope to make money at it. My family and I are POOR. I won't bore you with the details, but let's just say my husband and I have lived at the bottom of the barrel for a looooong time. Making money is a strong reality in our lives. But it wars with my artistic sensibilities that demand I write what's in my heart, and I write to express truth. In the end, the artist in me wins, and I keep writing with that integrity. I just cross my fingers, in the meantime, that my stories will speak to many others as well.

Some days I get bogged down with life, I compare myself to other writers, I feel impatient, I think my writing sucks. Some days the "noise" of the Internet is too loud--the thousands of blog posts, tweets, Facebook updates. Some days it's hard to see where my part is in all of this, or if I'll make a difference. Some days I pull away and go into hiding. And it's then I remember--after lots of quiet reflection--why I started writing in the first place. And above all those initial reasons, the first and foremost is, I need to create. That's it. Simple. But with creation comes division. Separating lightness from darkness. It may be a foggy journey in the twilight, but I'll keep my flame burning. That's enough for me to see one step ahead of myself. And I'll keep striving to find joy in the journey.

Why do you write?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Meet 'n' Greet

As part of the Gearing Up to Get an Agent (GUTGAA) festivities, here are my answers for the Meet & Greet Q&A. I'm actually one of the first-round judges for the upcoming pitch contest, but I really wanted to join in the preliminary schmoozing! :-) For more info on GUTGAA, or to sign up for the upcoming contests, go to

Where do you write?
At my desktop computer in the family room, right smack in the middle of all the commotion. Occasionally, my husband lets me steal his laptop and write in my bedroom with the door shut for hours. That is divine, and I write so much faster when I'm not interrupted every two seconds!

Quick. Go to your writing space, sit down and look to your left. What is the first thing you see?
A rubber-banded stack of note cards with the major beats and scenes of the novel I'm writing.

Favorite time to write?
I'm a night owl, but I write best first thing in the morning. I've discovered evenings are better for editing.

Drink of choice while writing?

Water. I carry a water bottle everywhere I go. I need me my H2O!

When writing , do you listen to music or do you need complete silence?

Complete silence is best, though I write to music often--but only if it's instrumental. Movie soundtracks are great. I love to sing, and if the music has vocals, I can't help but sing along. Then I'm too distracted to get any writing done!

What was your inspiration for your latest manuscript and where did you find it?

Two things inspired The Rowaness of Shalott. First, my lifetime love of fairies (especially dryads) and mythology (Arthurian myths, in this case). And, second, my feelings revolving around donating a kidney to my brother played a huge role in the themes of this novel.

What's your most valuable writing tip?

Once you've finished your draft, give it some space--at least two weeks (I did two months). Then read it in as little sittings as possible and mark it only for pacing or big picture things. Edit as little as possible so you keep reading quickly like a reader would. This helps me understand, more than anything, how my story is working as a whole.

Mini Bio:
I grew up spouting Shakespeare on the stage and playing folk songs on my guitar, but it wasn’t until I had three children that I discovered my passion for creative writing. Now I channel my artistic energy into the pages of my young adult fantasy novels, where I get to act out all the parts and write swoonworthy love songs for my characters.