Book Recommendation: The Best Punctuation Book, Period. (2014) by June Casagrande

Most writers know how to use a comma, period, exclamation point, and quotation marks, but very few will know how to modify the use of the aforementioned punctuation marks for the multiple, different style formats without guidance. For example, is it correct to place a comma before or after and? The answer is: sometimes, sometimes not (it depends on the format one is writing within).

To mitigate confusion one could simply look up the rules online through a grammar website, but that would generally take far longer consulting a dogeared and highlighted copy of grammar book, since you would have to find a website with all the grammatical rules in question (often this would required hopping around from site to site) and then find a site (or sites) which contained the requisite style formats to be used.

To circumvent the aforementioned scenario and, at the same time, improve your grammar, one could do worse than to consult June Casagrande’s The Best Punctuation Book, Period. The book contains numerous examples of proper use (and abuse) of the comma, period, exclamation point, question mark, em dash, en dash and many more, and also features a lengthy, alphabetically-organized section, titled ‘Punctuation A To Z,’ which lists a word, phrase, or abbreviation, alongside its recommended variations across multiple, primary-style formats (such as: book style, news style, science style and academic style).

For general purposes, Casagrande’s punctuation compilation makes for excellent reference material. There is even utility in the book’s last-page synopsis-advert:

Great writing isn’t born, it’s built—sentence by sentence.

Navigating Between Its’, It’s & Its

Its’, It’s and Its are some of the most commonly used (and misused) three letter word-forms in English. To use them properly it should be understood that its’ is always incorrect to use, thus anytime you see you’re writing its’, substitute it for either “it’s” or “its” depending on what the sentence requires.

It’s and Its, however, are proper, provided the context it right. Before one can use them, however, one has to be clear on the simple, but counterintuitive, difference between both words, which are as follows:

It’s means “it is” and “it has.”

Its is a possessive form and denotes ownership; for example: “This place has lost its charm.”

This can be confusing because possession is generally denoted via the form which it’s takes, that is to say, if instead of, “This place has lost its charm,” one were to write, “Kyle’s lost his charm,” an apostrophe would be used between “Kyle” and the “s” whereas with “its” no apostrophe is added. The reason for this is due to the fact that possessive pronouns are never written with an apostrophe because they already imply ownership (ie. it was his; the cake was hers; this house is ours; please keep it, its yours).

With all of this in mind, it should be easy to correct the its’-it’s-its confusion in one’s writing.

Irregardless: Clarifying A Confounding American Neologism

One of the most irascible words in the English language is the American neologism, irregardless, popularized during the 20th Century and meaning: without consideration; or, not needing to allow for; or, heedless; or, without reguard. The word is a combination of both irrespective and regardless, which raises a rather peculiar problem, namely, that both of the base-words are synonyms, thus, engendering a double-negative.

Since both irrespective and regardless mean, roughly, “heedless,” when one is saying irregardless, what one is actually saying is heedless of heedless, or, more exactly, irrespective of disregard OR without without reguard.

Since here, one is disreguarding their disreguard, they are, in effect, maintaining their reguard (provided they had some to begin with), however, this is the precise opposite of the meaning entailed in the casual (as opposed to literal) usage of “irreguardless.”

The solution to this arcane conundrum is, thankfully, quite a simple one: don’t use the word. Both irrespective and regardless are synonyms to this confusing adverb, and hence, can take its place without any linguistic confusion UNLESS one is writing fiction and one is emulating a certain regional dialect.

Sex, Violence, Death, Toil: A Brief Primer On Fiction Writing, Prt. 2

Putting aside many of the age-old questions concerning the validity of the concept of Human Nature one can with absolute certainty say that there are Human Universals, that is, Human Generalities. Everyone who exists was born and everyone who was born will die. Everyone feels the pangs of hunger and thirst, of dread and envy, jealousy and admiration, lust and love, of purpose and purposelessness. This is so easily observable that is wholly beyond contention (“but what if we are all brains in a vat in a vast simulation?!” Some cheeky fellow will doubtless interject at some point – mischievous rogues).

The acceptance of this a priori supposition then establishes some very fertile ground for purpose in fiction. Purpose is the first and most fundamental thing any given writer should ask him or herself before proceeding with a given piece of work (indeed it is the first of things which one should ask oneself before doing anything). “Why am I doing what I am doing? Why do I write stories at all? What do I wish to convey in it’s pages?” (and it should here be noted that if one does not wish to convey anything at all then there is no point in writing to begin with, the art that is only for the self and goes not beyond might as well stay contained within the brain! What is it then but a dream?) “What is the purpose of my art?”

Naturally, only you, the reader, can answer such questions in their particulars but there are some general principals that might help us better establish and define our aims as fiction writers. First and foremost among those principals is that if a story does not speak, in some meaningful way, to any Human Universals, then it simply will not be read with any regularity – or even if it is, it certainly isn’t going to be remembered (indeed, why should it?). But it isn’t enough merely to speak to the human soul, as it were, but also to do so in a clear and cogent way, that is to say, a understandable way. It is, of course, fine enough to write for a specific audience in mind (the case of Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra is here illustrative: his work was oft found difficult to interpret at best and downright incomprehensible at worst; the US literary critic, Harold Bloom described Nietzsche’s only fiction entry as “unreadable”).

Writing with a specific audience in mind is highly recommended; however, writing in such a way that no one but one’s own self and some small cadre of philologists and linguists (such would be the kind to say, Underworld is a masterpiece because despite it’s endless meandering without coming to a point, DeLillo is very good at making symbolic representations of waste-fixation as a American by-product which lays bear the soul of the post-industrial age – or some such tosh) is hardly the way to go for the simple fact that one is then, essentially writing in another language which will be totally incomprehensible to the common man and often, to the not-so-common man as well.

There is a tendency among post-modern novelists to zealously seek after originality at the expense of anything else (not all post-modern artists are guilty of this, obviously, but it is a general trend I have observed) and that anything else is generally a coherent and clear theme (again, DeLillo is a supreme example of this, he writes a lot of words but rarely says anything; there are implications, suggestions galore, but everything is tangential to something else which isn’t defined, or if so, poorly. Everything is obscured and referential, so much so that the obscure references and the inertia of his language itself become the whole point of the text – though he does, of course, have his high points).

This is a tendency to be avoid if you wish to approach art as a form of social communication (it seems lost on modern man that this was the purpose of nearly all ancient art – not the selfish, narcissistic impulse to stroke the ego that says, “Look at me! I feel something fragile and fleeting; observe it nonetheless, for such is my importance!” – but rather the communal sharing of a given societies highest ideals and aspirations for the purposes of civilizational lift).

Once one has acquired the knack for both clarity and purpose (and clarity of purpose) one should turn the mind’s eye to the directionality of the story itself. It matters not how far from terrestrial reality one flies upon the back of that great bird, creativity – whether you are writing about ancient dragons, or orcs, or cosmic horrors – certain human factors will always remain visible to be plucked out by the discerning no matter how phantasmal, grotesque or fantastical the setting, plot, characters or dialogue. Why is this – because you aren’t a dragon a orc or a cosmic horror, how could you possibly think as one?!

[to be continued in part. 3]