Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Hyphen: A Not-So-Well-Known Rule

It's a good thing that the hyphen is not a frequently used punctuation mark because most people don't know how to use it. The hyphen is so misunderstood that many people call it a dash, which is a different punctuation mark. Someone recently asked me a trick question: "Do you hyphenate set up/set-up?" Sneaky sneaky.

It depends on how the words and words like them are used in a sentence. If they are nouns, yes; if they are verbs, no. Examples:

  • The set-up of this room is good. (noun)
  • Emily set up the room well. (verb)

Here are three more do's and a don't for hyphens. Use a hyphen for compound adjectives composed of a noun and an adjective, a noun and a participle, or an adjective and a participle; do not use a hyphen with an adverb and a participle:

  • Laura needs camera-ready art for the brochure. (noun + adjective = hyphen)
  • Meghan wants a custom-built car. (noun + participle = hyphen)
  • Nancy takes an open-minded position on this issue. (adjective + participle = hyphen)
  • Richard is a widely known firefighter. (adverb + participle = no hyphen) 

For that last bullet point, remember to avoid the hyphen with words ending in ly. Oxford Dictionaries provides excellent guidance on hyphen usage.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Book Review: "How Fiction Works"

How Fiction Works by James Woods is a provocative and accessible musing for writers and readers of prose—and it offers excellent insights whether the interest is fiction or nonfiction. Woods cites passages from the Western Canon, including Dostoevsky, Faulkner, Flaubert, Joyce, Kafka, Mann, Saramago, and Woolf, among many others, to get to the essence of narration, character, plot, detail, and dialogue.

Woods’s references to other master novelists and critics, and even painters and police chiefs, make for engaging reading on a topic that transforms the casual reader to the well informed one. Among the best moments from the author himself are these:
  • The writer’s job is to become, to impersonate what he describes, even when the subject itself is debased, vulgar, boring (33).
  • Rich and daring prose avails itself of harmony and dissonance by being able to move in and out (196).
  • The writer’s—or critic’s, or reader’s—task is then to search for the irreducible, the superfluous, the margin of gratuity, the element in a style—in any style—which cannot be easily reproduced and reduced (233).
  • Realism, seen broadly as truthfulness to the way things are, cannot be mere verisimilitude, cannot be mere lifelikeness, or lifesameness, but what I must call lifeness: life on the page, life brought to different life by the highest artistry (247).
If these summative points resonate for you, then How Fiction Works is worth your time.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Those Darn Articles, Part 4: Possessive Pronoun Substitutes

[NOTE: For earlier parts in this series, see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.]

The definite articles (the) and the indefinite article (a, an) can be  replaced by possessive pronouns (i.e., my, your, his, her, its, our, their, whose). In the examples below, notice how the articles in the first sentences are correctly replaced by possessive pronouns in the second sentences:

  • The book is on the desk. / My book is on your desk.
  • A house is in the city. / His house is in her city.
  • The agency's job requires an engineer. / Its job requires our engineer.
  • Does a project call for an expert. / Whose project calls for their expert?

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Social Media and Communication, Part 4: Selecting Content

In determining what is and is not acceptable to post on your social media platform, keep in mind these guidelines:

  • Set clear expectations - Tell your appointed contributors about the kind of content that you want and why you want it. The why goes back to establishing your aim.
  • Loosen the leash - You already have chosen your contributors wisely, so now it's time to give them the space to get creative without the worry of constantly wondering whether you are looking over their shoulders, ready to censor them.
  • Uphold your organization's dignity - You still may find times that censorship is important, including when a writer might be posting a message for irrelevant political purposes; for unfair criticism or inflammatory commentary directed toward an individual, group, or idea; for self-promoting messages that override the organizational image. Remember: you're paying for the platform and the contributors, so you retain the right to determine the content.
  • Control the quality of the language - Needless to say, you have selected contributors not only for their understanding of your aim but for the command of language. The quality of writing must be there. This means the content must be relevant and complete; the paragraphs must be organized, emphatic, and focused; the sentences must be clear, concise, and direct; and the words must be correct and appropriate.
  • Debrief regularly - Meet your contributors periodically--the more frequently the better--to tell them which posts ring truest to your ideal for the platform and which could have been improved with the inclusion or deletion of a certain content.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Social Media and Communication, Part 3: Authorizing Users

Once you answer the questions about establishing the aim of your social media platform, it's time to decide who will contribute to it. You should decide on this issue in two parts:

  • Internal Contributors - who on the staff will be allowed to post regularly on the platform  
  • External Contributors - whether you will allow limited or unlimited comments or likes from your readership
These are not easy decisions, as they will determine the ultimate style and content of the platform, which I will discuss in the next post of WORDS ON THE LINE.