“Dreyer’s English” by Benjamin Dreyer

EnglishLooking to crack open a good grammar book? Then I am happy to recommend Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style, which warmed the cockles of this grammar geek’s heart. My husband was a little concerned (read: irritated) that I laughed aloud, with a literal LOL, in so many places, but indeed, I did—and over a grammar book.

I’m sure it helps that I commit some editing myself on occasion, but even if I did not, I would have great admiration for the role of those like Benjamin Dreyer, copy chief of Random House. I say he’s doing the Lord’s work by making the world a better, more readable place. I happen to like and even enjoy grammar rules, but I don’t believe fussy editor types are the only ones who will enjoy this book. Not by a long shot. Do you know the word “faffing,” for instance? I didn’t, but his use of “faffing about” made me look it up, and now I’m a fan.

Dreyer shares my fondness for the serial comma, and he states his case rather simply: “Only godless savages eschew the series comma.” (He says “series,” I say “serial.” To-may-to, to-mah-to.)

His writing is irreverent and occasionally self-deprecating, and how lovely it was to read that even a man in his position doesn’t quite know what all these blessed grammar things are called. “Even now,” he writes, “I’d be hard-pressed to tell you what a nominative absolute is, I think that the word ‘genitive’ sounds vaguely smutty, and I certainly don’t know, or care to know, how to diagram a sentence. I hope I’m not shocking you.”

And if I’m ever asked to play grammar-themed trivia one day—and my goodness, I hope I am—I will know that  the capital “G” in LaGuardia is a “medial capital.”

Many of the rules (and a few preferences) he discusses are simply things I’ve already learned and internalized from The Chicago Manual of Style, but Dreyer sure makes them fun to read and consider. I simply can’t think of a writer or editor who wouldn’t benefit from reading this charming and helpful book.

Advertisements

Character Development Journal from Sweet Harmony Press

IMG_6769If you’re going to build something, you need to have the right tools. Right? As a writer, I can think of lots of tools that I find indispensable: a computer, a word-processing program (or two), pens, pencils, paper, notebooks, style guides, grammar books. And to that list, I am now happy to add the Character Development Journal from Sweet Harmony Press.

I received mine as a Christmas gift from a thoughtful girlfriend, and I absolutely love the simplicity of this journal. It’s the same two-page spread repeated about fifty-something times (and I don’t imagine they’d appreciate me sharing a photo of it since then you might not want the journal). It lets you list things like the character’s name and nickname, age, other physical characteristics, jobs, beliefs, people the character loves and hates, pets, and much more. There’s even a bulleted list of dozens of character traits for you to check off, ranging from A (“accountable”) to Z (“zealous”), and I’m looking forward to going deeper with the characters in my first novel as I continue to work on book two in the series.

I’d read before that an author needs to keep a “character Bible,” but I hardly knew where to start other than jotting down a few disjointed lists in one of my many brainstorming journals. As I continue to build an imaginary world for my characters, I now have a handy journal that will (hopefully!) help me create characters that, as the book cover says, “readers will love.”

Grammar: Why it’s Greek to me

img_6502 (1)A sweet New Year’s revelation: my spiritual studies and my grammar studies can overlap. At the end of the year, I was taking stock of my daily Bible-reading habit and realized it left me wanting … more. Yes, I read through the Bible again in 2018, but I wasn’t sure I’d gotten as much out of the reading as I would have liked. Then I remembered that a friend had passed along a Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible she no longer wanted. What if I tried reading that during my morning devotions? Couldn’t hurt, might help, I decided.

I also started reading with a notebook at hand to write down observations about the scriptures I read each morning. So far, my Bible-reading plan has me in Genesis in the Old Testament and Matthew in the new, and I have yet to finish a day’s reading without jotting down several new insights I’ve found. I can’t help thinking that this Hebrew-Greek Bible has something to do with these new insights.

This week, I found myself looking up the word “scribes” in the book’s concordance of Greek words. Imagine how it delighted my grammar-geek heart to learn that the Greek word was “grammateus.” The definition wasn’t especially profound (a writer, a scribe), but I did learn that the word could also mean “town clerk,” which was news to me.

The other big discovery? This Bible has a whole page of verb tenses that I had never even heard of. I was ridiculously happy when I found that, and I wonder how much time I’ll spend this year learning about things like the “aorist subjunctive active” (be still my heart!).

Of course, no matter how many Bibles I read and study from, I’ll be most happy if, at some point this year, I make some progress with the Christian basics, verses like Luke 6:31, and “do unto others as I would have them do unto me.” One day, I hope I’ll pass along a Bible to someone that will make them as happy as this one has made me!

A journal for bibliophiles

bibliophileTo kick off the new year, I wanted to mention a few of the tools I’ll be using this year, and one simple one that I absolutely adore is this new Bibliophile planner by Jane Mount that was a Christmas gift from my husband.

While I already had an everyday planner as well as a planner just for my writing career (that one is available here), I have never before had a journal or planner that I devoted to what I was reading—not what I was writing for myself or clients but what I was simply reading. So each morning or evening of the year so far, I’ve pulled the planner aside and jotted down the titles of the books I read each day. Since January 1, that’s included the Bible (a few chapters a day), The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle (a prayer book), and whatever fiction and nonfiction I happen to be reading at the moment. I’m also recording the names of books that my online book club is reading. Hopefully, this new tracking method will prevent me from waiting till the last minute to read these titles, as has frequently happened over the past two years of the club’s existence.

Many times over the years, I have tried to recall where I read something that week. This reading journal, I hope, will help me keep up with the books I enjoyed—or didn’t!—during the year. If you haven’t yet seen this planner, it’s not too late to check it out or to come up with a system of your own for recording your reads in 2019. However you choose to chronicle your reading life this year, good luck and happy reading!

 

 

Writers and their favorite rules

rules

Photo courtesy of Nick Youngson, http://nyphotographic.com/

Do you have rules for your writing? I don’t, but after coming across an Authors Publish article on 35 writers’ “Rules for Writing,” I’ve been thinking of creating a list of my own favorite writing rules.

Some of these I’ve heard before, such as Elmore Leonard’s famous, “Leave out the parts readers tend to skip.” If only it were that easy!

Some of these rules are ones I’ve heard and chosen to ignore, such as the advice of Steinbeck (and others) to “never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down.” I mean to simply get the words down, but then I notice a typo or a paragraphing issue and, bam, I’m off editing before I can help myself.

One author rule that I do follow, and religiously, is to read, read, and read some more. In fact, this is probably my favorite writing rule. Why? I have at least two books under way at any given moment, and in recent years, I’ve begun taking notes on every single book I read, the good and the bad. Good books teach me what to do. Bad books teach me what not to do.

And if those aren’t enough rules for you, feel free to check out the rules of these 35 writers for yourself by clicking on the link above. Do you have a favorite writing rule? I’d love to hear it!

Dictionary spellings and variants

Preferred spellingsWhen the dictionary lists more than one spelling of a word, which one should you use? I like to use the preferred spelling.

Do you know which of these common words is preferred? I know only because I’ve had to look them up for books I’ve edited over the past few years that the favored spellings are barbecue, doughnut, and drive-through. If you look these up in the dictionary, you will find, for instance, “barbecue also barbeque.” What does that also mean? Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary: Eleventh Edition, says, “When another spelling is joined to the main entry by the word also, the spelling after also occurs appreciably less often and thus is considered a secondary variant.”

Sometimes, though, you’ll find two words listed and joined by or, not also. The dictionary notes, “When a main entry is followed by the word or and another spelling, the two spellings occur with equal or nearly equal frequency and can be considered equal variants. Both are standard, and either one may be used according to personal inclination.” An example from the color world? “Ocher or ochre.” Either is fine, and my “personal inclination” is to use ochre.

Do you use preferred spellings? Did you know there was such a thing?