More Commas in the Air

I know I’ve done a post about apostrophes before, but I thought I would focus on the most troublesome cases once again.

Most of the time, apostrophes show that one or more letters have been left out. This should help you to decide on the spelling, if you keep in mind which letters are missing.

You are = you’re (the “a” is missing)

Your just signifies that something belongs to you.

Here’s (here is) and example with both.

You’re going to miss your train.

Another way to think of which word (your or you’re) shows ownership is to think of the spelling. Your contains our, another ownership word. If it’s not our car, it might be your car.

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there, their, and they’re

They are = they’re (the “a” is missing)

There, as in over there, should be easy to remember because it has here in it. If it’s not here, it’s there.

Their (which shows that something belongs to them) gives a lot of people trouble with spelling. Is it i before e? Not if it sounds like “a” as in hay and weigh. Easier yet, is to think of the word as the with ir tacked on. You’ll never spell it thier again.

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Then there is who’s and whose.

Who is = who’s (the “i” is replaced).

Who’s going with me?

But to show ownership, it’s whose.

Who’s coming with me to confront the man whose son is a bully?

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Let us go to the movie together. Yes, let’s. (the “u” is missing).

I’ll go if my mom lets (allows) us. No letter missing. No apostrophe needed.

Also if it means to rent out a place. She lets (rents out) the apartment upstairs. No apostrophe needed.

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If you are just trying to write the plural form of a word, no apostrophe is needed.

A lot is an amount, a group, or a bunch. If you have many groups or bunches, you have more than one lot. You have lots. No apostrophe needed. And by the way it is “a lot” with a space between the two words. Not “alot.”

All the years in the decade from 1970 to 1980 are the years in the 1970s. It is a plural number (more than one year). There is no ownership and no letters are missing, so no apostrophe needed. So years in any decades are written without an apostrophe, e.g. the 1950s, the 1890s and so on.

Before you put an apostrophe in a word, ask yourself why you are doing it. Is it taking the place of a letter? Is it showing ownership? If not, then maybe it doesn’t need the apostrophe at all.

Dialogue – He said, she said

Why do we use dialogue in novels when it could all be done with prose? The benefits of using dialogue:.

  • It brings an engaging immediacy to the scene. You feel you are right there with the characters, involved in their conversation.
  • The dialect, choice of vocabulary, and the tone can reveal a person’s characteristics in a more interesting way than a wordy description could.
  • Dialogue can be a tool for advancing the plot, especially if  inner conflict is woven into the spoken conversation.

Some tips about using dialogue:

  • Use short snappy dialogue when appropriate. It heightens the tension.
  • People don’t normally use long sentences in conversation. They more often speak in fragments and phrases.
  • Speakers don’t repeat what the other person just said.
  • Don’t use it as an all-too-obvious way to pass on information in a way that the person normally would not do. (E.g., “Don’t yell at Henry. He’s only two years old and he’s our only boy.” Painfully obvious information forced into the story.)

Dialogue tags:

  • These are the words that tell the reader who is speaking. They can be a distraction or even an annoyance if belaboured. The “he said/she said” part of the sentence should be like punctuation; it’s very important, but shouldn’t stand out or be noticed. Fancy dialogue tags like argued, insisted, responded, inquired, questioned, and replied are an unnecessary distraction. In most cases, said and asked are all you need.
  • Having said that, try to limit your use of dialogue tags. Often if you precede or follow the dialogue with an action by the speaker, we know who is speaking. (E.g., Sam pointed at the ball. “Go fetch.”)
  • If your speaker is grimacing or laughing, be sure that this is occurring in its own sentence, not as part of a dialogue tag.

Examples:

Wrong – “That’s so funny,” Sam laughed.

Right – “That’s so funny.” Sam laughed.

The period, instead of the comma makes all the difference. In most cases, though, the action should come before the dialogue.

Combining actions with dialogue:

  • Be careful how you handle this one. I see this done very often. Here is the pattern: “How are you?’ she asked, gazing at his eyes. When I peruse a book that I’m considering reading, I look for use of gerunds behind dialogue tags. If I see more than the occasional one, I’m already turned off. This kind of pattern stands out in a novel and can become irritating when you know that each set of quotation marks will be followed by the gerund pattern.

Here are some examples: “Pleased to meet you,” George said, pumping my hand up and down. “I’ll be right back,” David said, running down the street. “Give those back,” he said, grabbing at the candies. “It already looks irritating to me,” Anneli said, going on to a different book.

Conclusion:

Dialogue can be an effective tool to make your novel more readable and engaging. It’s definitely a skill worth working on. Watch for examples of dialogue in novels. Do they work? What are the faults, if any, in the writing of the dialogue? Take some bad examples you find and see if you can make them more effective. When you know how to use dialogue to your advantage you’ll find that the quality of writing in your novel improves greatly.

 But best of all, writing dialogue can be fun, especially when your characters, saying what they would naturally say, steer the conversation in a direction you hadn’t intended it to go. So watch out for those characters with a mind of their own, but have fun chatting.

Anneli Purchase is a published author who works with writers to bring out their best. She is a freelance copy-editor providing services that include correcting spelling, punctuation, word usage, sentence structure and balance, and many other aspects of writing. To find out more about Anneli, go to her website at http://www.anneli-purchase.com/.

Have you ever struggled with writing dialogue?

Has your dialogue ever sent your storyline off in a different direction from what you had planned?

Please feel free to leave a comment. We’d love to hear what you think.