Confessions of a Digital Novelist

Archive for January, 2011

The 9th Circle of Hell – Capitalization and Punctuation

by on Jan.19, 2011, under Storytelling Theory, Writing

Finally, finally, finally, the edit is done. I have obsessed over it long enough. I have made enough changes. It’s time to let it go. Evermore: Call of the Nocturne is ready for its final edit. All I need now is another editor. I’ll give myself the rest of the week and weekend off and then start searching for a new editor. It’s too bad that Erin won’t get chance to edit it again. I think she would have loved some of the changes I made.

Part of the reason that it took so long is that I was constantly struggling to establish consistent rules for myself on Capitalization and punctuation. My lifelong habit has been to capitalize for emphasis. For example, “oh my God!”; or “Protect the King!”. However, based on Erin review, I have had to make many uncomfortable changes to the capitalization style because I was using them incorrectly and inconsistently.

Let’s take for example the word sovereign. In Evermore: Call of the Nocturne, the Sovereign of Evermore is an individual who leads the government in Evermore, known as the Consortium. Now in my earlier drafts, I had always capitalized sovereign, no matter how it was used in the sentence. So “Sovereign”, “the Sovereign”, “my Sovereign”, “Sovereign Klein” and “Sovereign of Evermore” were all capitalized. But according to my editor Erin, and the Internet sites that I visited, only the last two should be capitalized. In everything else, the word sovereign, like king or prime minister, should be lower case. Only when the word is used as a proper noun should a title should be capitalized. Thus “Sovereign Klein” becomes “the sovereign” or “my sovereign”.

But then I ran into another problem. For one word in the English language, these rules are allowed to be broken. That word is God. But they can only be broken based on what you mean by the word god. If you are referring to a general omniscient being, then god should be lower-case when used in a sentence. The confusion comes from one of the unusual traits of Christianity. We quite literally call our god “God”. When you refer to the Christian conception of god, then it is considered a proper noun, like Zeus or Ra, and thus must be capitalized.

I had this capitalization problem with god, sovereign, strider and kernel. Going through the text and over again until I was using capitalization correctly (I think?) and consistently proved to be a major time sink.

The second major problem that I had was with punctuation. More specifically, I had problems with periods and commas. When I was growing up, I was always taught to put two spaces after a period and so when I wrote the novel I put two spaces after every period. It was instinctual. I didn’t even have to think about it. However, the current standard (due to the influence of the Internet) has been to put one space after a period. I suppose it looks much better on a typed page. So due to Erin’s suggestions, I went back and removed all of the extra spaces. The result: a much more consistent-looking document.

Commas proved to be far more challenging. Again, I had always been taught to use liberally, to add one whenever I want the ready to pause. However, Erin notified me that in some circumstances, such as when the comma would precede the word “and” in a list of items, the comma is not necessary. For example:

“I went to the store to buy some eggs, bacon, and hashbrowns.”

can be rewritten without the last comma. Like so:

“I went to the store to buy some eggs, bacon and hashbrowns.”

Having always grown up putting the comma before the word “and”, I was fairly uncomfortable with this change. But for those of you who remembered my rule from a previous post, “The editor is (almost) always right”, I decided to give it a try. I went through my document and removed all of the unnecessary commas. The only exception that I made was for commas that were in the song lyrics that Vanessa sings during the Goddess Pageant. I left those commas in because the reader to know that there was a slight pause in that place. Otherwise, the song lyrics would not flow correctly.

The end result from removing all of these commas was a prose that was relaxed, uncluttered and far smoother to read. The text simply looks more attractive to the eye. I believe that it was a good change.

Cormac McCarthy has gone even farther than this. In his novels, it eliminates as much punctuation as possible, including quotation marks. He believes that punctuation gets between the reader and the story. From my own experience, I can definitely understand what he means.

Prose style is something that is incredibly personal for each author. While there are rules, there is room for each writer to experiment and find what works for them. In my case, my novel’s long gestation period has forced me to confront my old ideas about prose and try out some new ideas. This process has led to a far better novel, but has been as excruciating as the 9th circle of hell.

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Back to Ottawa, Back to Work

by on Jan.03, 2011, under Personal

Christmas at the Blurton household(s) was short and sweet. In my three and a half day vacation, I managed to do the following:
  • Chat with my parents into the long hours of the night.
  • Have Christmas dinner at my younger brother’s home.
  • Play with his adorable little daughter Hanna.
  • Go to my older brother’s house for Boxing Day dinner.
  • Play with his daughter and see the newborn – both adorable.
  • Get my butt handed to me in Settlers of Catan (at least Chris didn’t win).
  • Play Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood multiplayer (short review: it’s awesome).
  • Sleep in a room-sized dollhouse.
  • Play Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood singleplayer (short review: it’s also awesome).
  • Have another Christmas dinner at my parents house with Gramma Blurton.
  • Fly home, get sick and work the next day.

So aside from the getting sick part, it was a pretty awesome vacation if not a wee bit condensed. My favourite moment was I was showing my little niece my iPad and the thirty or so Disney movies installed on it. This was her actual quote:

“I like your movies (pause). I love you.”

That one just about melted my heart and made me ask my brother if I take her back to Ottawa with me. This year it really hit me how far away from my family I have gone. I only get to seem them twice a year now and a whole new generation of Blurtons are growing up without me. It made me reconsider my move to Ottawa, until I remembered what Ottawa has that Enderby doesn’t:

Jobs.

I wonder if these are the same emotions that my ancestors felt when they made the trip over the ocean from Britain. They must have known that they would never see their families again and yet they still made the trip, looking for a better life. I guess I should count my blessings. At least I get to see my family twice a year.

After the vacation, I returned to work for a quiet two days and then spent the long weekend recovering from my illness. Unfortunately, I gave it to my roommate. In the meantime, I did finally finish the line edit of Evermore: Call of the Nocturne. I had never imagined that it would have taken so long (approximately 6 months). I still have a few pages of notes of things that I need to go to fix but for the most part, the next draft is ready. My next step will be to hire an editor to do another line edit, clean up the text and finalize it for publication). I pray that the final edit will not take nearly as long.

Oh yeah, my birthday party is coming up. This year I’m turning 32. Thankfully, I have aged well. The birthday party will be at Pub Italia on Wednesday at 5:30 pm. If you don’t know where Pub Italia is, then I probably don’t want you showing up to my party. :) Here’s to 32 more glorious years.

Until next time, keep the comments coming.

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