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Welcome to Writer's Forum at Harman Mysteries

There are two regular features to Writer's Forum designed to help writers, both novice and experienced. The first is It's a Matter of Opinion, an article which offers suggestions on how to handle various writing problems. We've all read articles that imply you're not a real writer or that you'll never succeed if you don't do things a specific way yet experience has taught us that this just isn't so. No one way works for everyone and most writers change how they do things several times over the course of their career. It's a Matter of Opinion strives to offer several options and leaves the choosing up to you, the individual.


The second regular feature is Grammar ABC's which covers some of the more troublesome grammar and punctuation problems. Again, very seldom are hard and fast rules stated but the basic rules are presented. Many successful writers frequently break grammar rules but the truth is that we need to know and understand the rules in order to do this without distracting from our writing.


If you ever have any comments or suggestion, especially as to what you would like to see addressed in either feature, please send an e-mail to writersforum@harmanmysteries.com.


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It's a Matter of Opinion


You're a writer and this is a page for writers. Everyone reads articles of this nature for a specific purpose. However, there are always three possible outcomes when you come to the end of the feature. Your expectations will have been met, exceeded, or, sadly, it may have fallen far short of what you hoped for. What are your expectations for this feature?


Are you looking for a set of strict rules that lay our exactly how to do your writing? Chances are you will be disappointed. Why? Because at Harman Mysteries we feel that providing strict rules on how to write stifles a person's creativity. Writing methods vary from person to person. For every person who says that outlining and knowing the outcome of the story ahead of time makes the actual writing boring there is someone who claims that outlining frees them from plot worries to they can concentrate on the characters and their relationships and the subplots that this creates. Some claim you should have extensive backgrounds for each character, even have conversations with them, before you begin writing. Others feel you should develop the character as the plot progresses. I'm sure see the problem with stating any of this as an absolute.


Some writers claim you should write every day or you can't call yourself a real writer. Does that hold true for everyone? Of course not. As a matter of fact, all at Harman Mysteries feel there is entirely too much "shoulding" going on in the world today so we make every effort to keep that word out of our articles. If we slip up, please bring it to our attention.


Are you looking for a strict set of grammar rules? It'll be a rare occasion that you find them in Matter of Opinion or Grammar ABC's, which means your expectations may not be met. We're not denying that grammar is important because it most definitely is. Poor grammar could cause your readers to become distracted from the story, possibly to the point of not finishing it. On the other hand, how many readers will stop mid-sentence and ponder whether it would have been better if the writer had used a transitive verb? The point is that there has to be balance in all things.


Are you looking for specific guidelines for structure? Once again you may be disappointed. I read an article about writing the other day where the author insisted that no paragraph should have more than three sentences in it, that the average reader will become discouraged if they see a larger paragraph and give up on the story. Many popular writers, both past and present, have been known to use lengthy paragraphs. In addition, it's using that would—should—again and it's insulting to the reader. If a writer underestimates their reader or talks down to them, they'll lose them far faster than if they use a ten-sentence paragraph.


The point is that writing is a personal endeavor. Each of us is creative in a different way and if we try to put things into the absolute state we would be taking away the individuality that makes each of us, and by extension or writing, unique. So what can you expect from the articles in this feature and this Web site in general?


Suggestions. Different styles of writing, different methods, and yes, some grammar discussions, will be presented. These will be set out for you to pick and choose what works best for you, not for someone else. All of us at Harman Mysteries feel that the bet way to inspire good writing is to encourage each of you to be yourself, to explore what is unique about you, and in this way find your own voice. Writing should be a pleasure, not a chore. Trying to do in in a way that is contrary to your nature will sap not only your creativity but also your pleasure in writing. If this is what you're looking for, your expectation will most likely be met or exceeded.


Now it's time for a suggestion. We've all heard "write what you know" however we also know that it's necessary to go beyond that point in order to grow as a writer and as a person. However, my first suggestion for you is based upon this adage. Take some time, maybe fifteen minutes to write, without regard to style or grammar, on the topic of why you love to write. And please, for your own benefit, no glib answers. Be honest. Make it personal.


Do you write because you feel a lace of control in your life and with writing, especially fiction, you have all the control because you dictate how everything turns out? Is it because it's the only way you can express your feelings, your views? Or is it a simple case of you can't not write, that something inside you compels you to write and you neither know or care why? Whatever the case may be, don't be afraid to state it clearly and honestly. After all, it's only between you and the piece of paper you're writing on or the computer screen you're looking at. It can be disposed of with a quick touch of the delete key or a quick trip through the shredder. On the other hand, you may want to keep it so that when you hit a slump you can remind yourself of why you chose this way of life.


If all this sounds good to you, your expectations will be consistently met.


Wishing you a creative life,


Arlene Harman


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Grammar ABC's

Quotation Marks

Most quotation mark usages are easily understood. But there are some troublesome areas. Let's begin with the easy ones and end with one of my pet peeves.


Space won't permit me to cover all the uses for quotation marks. Since that is the case and let's cover the most common problems that occur, and that's with dialogue. Generally the rules are straightforward—quotation marks set apart each character's lines. Let's use as an example one of the first lines of dialogue that most of us learned to read, with poetic license taken, of course.


"I'm tired of going up the hill to fetch water. We always fall down."


"I know, Jack, but we need water. How else do you suggest we get it?"


"It's easy,Jill. We pipe it down here to our house."


Simple, right? What if you decide to break it up? It might read:


"I'm tired of going up the hill to fetch water," Jack said. "We always fall down and it's embarrassing."


That's still fairly simple. Everything Jack says goes inside quotation marks, including punctuation but the name tag isn't included in the quotes because it part of the dialogue. However, it would become more complicated if Jack decided to get long-winded about it and explains, in agonizing detail, how he would pipe the water down to the house. His explanation could go on for several paragraphs.


We've been taught that for every opening quotation mark there must be a closing mark. This is one of the few instances where that rule doesn't hold true. Each new paragraph of lengthy dialogue will have an opening quotation mark to indicate that Jack is still speaking but you would not use a closing mark until he actually completes his explanation.


What if the character speaking quotes someone in the middle of his comment? Single quotation marks would be used for the quote. I apologize to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes and Shakespeare for the poetic license I'm about to take to illustrate the point:


"Sherlock Holmes," Rick said, "used to say 'the game's afoot' in many of his cases."


Now, what if there was a quotation within the quotation? Let's expand our poetic license and see what that would look like:


"Sherlock Holmes was quoted as saying 'the game's afoot,'" Rick said, "but it's actually a quotation from the Shakespearean play King Henry V when the King says '"The game's afoot. Follow your spirit,"' and I took a fancy to the expression."


When, in Rick's dialogue, one of Sherlock Holmes' favorite expression is quoted, a single quote mark is used to set it apart but when explaining where the phrase came from it was necessary to use the single quote to denote Shakespeare's play was being quoted and the double quotes were needed for the actual dialogue. That's why "Follow your spirit." ends with a double and then a single quote to bring Rick's quotation to a close and, of course, ending Rick's dialogue with a double quotation mark.


It's rare to have such a convoluted segment of dialogue but all you have to remember is that each time a quote comes in, change from singe to double and back to single again, then finish that character's dialogue with a double quotation mark. If you have such a situation in your story or novel, read it over carefully to make sure each quote has the proper marks. In reality thought, for the sake of clarity, you might want to rethink the scene.


Some writers find punctuation confusing. For example, what if someone is asking question and you need t identify the character, such as:


"What do you mean?" Marla asked.


As was mentioned earlier, everything that has to do with dialogue, including the question mark, is contained within the quotes and the sentence is completed with a period.


Now for my pet peeve. A situation that I always find difficult and disconcerting is when there are quote to set off a word or phrase that comes just before a comma or at the end of a sentence. Here's an example of what I mean.


"I know it's a cliché but I've always like the phrase 'birds of a feather.'"


That's the correct way to write it but it seems awkward to me. I would prefer that the period be put between the single and double quotation mark. Why does this pose a problem for me? Because it seems inconsistent. As noted in Marla's dialogue above, everything that has to do with the dialogue, including the question mark, is contained within the quotes. So why isn't that true with a phrase set apart with quotes?


I checked all my reference work, trying in vain to find someone who agreed with me. Sadly, I was unanimously out-voted. As a matter of fact, the indication was that I shouldn't be using quotation marks to set the phrase apart from the rest of the sentence in the first place. Since I seem to be a party of one on this matter, I will have to bow to their wishes.


Do you have any grammar rules that grate on you? I'd love to hear about them. After all, I'd hate to think I'm the only one that chafes under some of these rules. And if you happen to know of a reference work that agrees with my idea on setting a phrase apart, I definitely want to hear from you.


Grammatically yours,


Peggy Herrmann