Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Mechanics of Writing

I have the honor of being trusted enough to edit other people's manuscripts from time to time. Occasionally, I find myself giving mini-lessons in the mechanics of writing as I do so. Here are some examples:
In fiction, dialogue does not go on a separate line just because it's dialogue.
When one character is speaking for several paragraphs, do not put end quotes at the end of each paragraph, save them for the very end of that person's dialogue. Do, however, start each paragraph with opening quotes. This is a subtle indication to the reader that the same character is speaking these paragraphs.
Generally, past tense verbs are preferred over present tense verbs. Whichever tense you choose to write in, stick with that tense. Don't flip between present and past tenses.
If you are writing from Character A's point of view, he cannot tell the reader things he does not know. If B & C secretly meet to discuss something, A must overhear them - or be told about the meeting - in order to tell the reader about it.
'I' is for the subject. 'Me' is for the object of the verb. If you lump yourself with another person, and can't decide if you've chosen the correct pronoun for yourself, try reading the sentence without that other person. 'Mother and me went to the park.' = 'Me went to the park.' I don't know about you, but that grates on my brain. It should be 'I went to the park,' therefore, 'Mother and I went to the park.'
The best source I have found for learning some of these mechanics is the book, Elements of Style by Strunk & White. It is a whopping 85 pages long. It is clear and concise, without a lot of fluff to clutter it up. I try to read it every couple of years, just to remind myself of things.
This book, however, is not written with fiction in mind, so sometimes, a punctuation question comes up that is not addressed in its pages. This past month, I have discovered a blog by 'Grammar Gal', which has answered a couple punctuation questions I had. She seems to know her stuff, and explains it clearly. She has joined my 'resource' list as well.
My dad used to say, "If something is worth doing, it's worth doing right." I have to agree. So if you want to write, brush up on your grammar rules. It makes it much easier on the editor, who can then concentrate on finding any plot holes you might have missed.

Even if you aren't writing books, just emails to friends and family, being aware of the grammar rules will make those emails easier for them to read.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Comparison: Megacon vs Planet Comicon

Ten days ago, John and I went to our first Planet Comicon in Kansas City. For the past several years, we have spent time at this point in the year in Orlando, where we attended Megacon. Both are 'comic' conventions, but - as always - each has its own flavor. I could not keep myself from comparing them, and I'd like to share my thoughts with you.
A comic convention is, to my mind, a giant dealer's room first and foremost. A huge room, it contains dealers selling t-shirts, toys, models, comics and all sorts of retail items; artists showing and selling their artwork; authors selling their books; fans selling their craft items; fan groups looking for new members; media guests selling autographs and photo shoots; and at least one school trying to drum up new students. If I had to guess, I'd say Planet Comicon's dealer room was about the size of a football field. Happily, they did have some empty chairs lined up against the one empty wall, and I was not the only person who used those chairs. Megacon's dealer room is even larger, with more of all of the above types. There are no chairs along the wall to let your tired feet rest for a moment. I managed to get about halfway through Planet Comicon's dealer room on Friday before I wandered off to see what else was going on, and on that day, it was not horrendously crowded. Megacon's dealer room is always packed with shopping sardines, on any day, and I can't stand being in it for more than a few minutes at a time.
Planet Comicon also had a gaming room, 4 rooms for panels, and 1 room for large panels (panels, for instance, with the media guests tend to have a huge line forming in the hallway at least an hour before-hand). Megacon has a lot of rooms, of various sizes; rooms devoted to gaming, to anime, to costuming, to assorted and sundry other subjects. The largest rooms with the stages are for those panels with the media guests, of course, and there, too, you had better arrive early if you want a seat.
The food vendors at Planet Comicon were mostly brands I had heard of, and their prices were a little high, but not ridiculously so. The food vendors at Megacon are brands I had never heard of before, and their prices are sky high. The one time we bought something from a Megacon food vendor, it didn't taste any good, so we tend to fill our pockets with simple snacks and refill our water bottles from the water fountains.

After a long day at Megacon, one has to walk back all the way through the west wing of the Orange County Convention Center, find your way outside, take your bearings, and then - walk to the furthest end of the colossal parking lot to find your car. I always felt I was hiking back to Nebraska. If I had a similar thought at the end of a Planet Comicon day, as we made our way to our car, at least Nebraska wasn't nearly as far a hike!
Any comments on comic conventions you've attended?

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Kepler Keeps On Giving

When I heard, several weeks ago, that the Kepler Telescope was crippled, and it was stationed so far from Earth that repairs were not possible in the foreseeable future, I really got depressed. That's it, I thought. No more exciting news about newly discovered, exotic planets outside our solar system.
Last week, I was really bowled over with the news that scientists had discovered another 715 planets, including systems with more than one planet in them. When I read further into the article, they were announcing 715 planets circling 306 suns. So, just doing some simple math, one can see that in that batch, the average is about 2.34 planets per star. Of course, no one ever claimed that 'nature' could do even the simplest of math, AND Kepler may not have been watching long enough to see evidence of planets further out from their stars.
My head was starting to whirl at this point, but I believe that brings the total of planets discovered outside our solar system to a little more than 1,700. Now, remember, Kepler only stared at one tiny, tiny area of our galaxy.

And, perhaps the best news this article gave me - the scientists had only analyzed 2 years of Kepler's 4 years of data. I am all atingle, waiting for more information on what Kepler saw in its all-too-brief, 4 years of life.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

A 500 Year Summer

My husband has been re-watching Game of Thrones. As I've said before, I don't like political intrigue, nor a cast of thousands, so this is not my cup of tea. But the characters mention they are ending a summer of 500 years, and the winter will soon be on them. That comment has me intrigued.
What kind of solar system would they be in that a season could last for hundreds of years?
I read a book many years ago - I don't remember the title or the author, sorry - where the planet's orbit was a lop-sided elliptical around its sun. When winter came, everything hibernated, even the people. The length of their year did not equal one of ours, but a year - one revolution around their sun - did involve seasons. So that wasn't the answer.
I then thought about the planet NASA has discovered that has 4 suns. That in itself is mind-boggling. The planet revolves around one star, which is in a mutual revolution with a second star, and that pair of stars is in a mutual revolution with another pair of stars.
I don't have enough math and physics to do any computations, so I just have to use some logic to try and get a feel for it. The first pair of stars have to be far enough away from each other that they don't tear each other apart, and also so they don't burn the planet to a crisp when it passes between them. But when that planet is between them, it would be extra warm. As the stars go around each other, that extra warmth would move around their calendar, until the 'extra warmth' was actually during their winter. It might not seem like they were having any winter.
How long would it take for this 'extra warmth' to move around the planet, from producing warm autumns through not-really winters and into warm springs? I don't know. It would depend on how long it takes for those 2 stars to revolve around each other. A thousand years might be too fast.
That might help explain a REALLY LONG summer, but it doesn't explain an equally long winter. When both stars were on the same side of the planet, they would have hot summers and cold winters. Bummer. I thought I might be on to something.

Do we have any physicists in the audience who would like to weigh in on this?