Tuesday 1 June 2010

Hair loss: an unavoidable symptom of writing?

Back from Cyprus, on school holiday and working on a mini-rewrite, I have been tearing my hair out; I know! Hair is not only necessary it is quite an attractive feature, so, I really shouldn't, but... added to the regular hair in the plughole I now have a pile of perfectly serviceable locks littering the floor of my study. 
There is only one thing that affects me in this way (well, two if I include the entirely avoidable futility of arguing with my autistic son) but the one which is currently driving me to distraction is punctuating fragments in my writing.
No-one speaks in full sentences, except my aforementioned son. Never in dialogue and rarely in real-life situations. 
I've spent a week translating my version of spoken English into broken English which was much easier for Cypriots to follow. For a while there I thought the condition might be permanent but, to my relief, I found it was only temporary. Phew!
I seem to be the Queen of Fragmentation. Scanning my novel, after more than six months since my last re-write, all I could see on each page was a plethora of dots and dashes. There were so many I decided I must be, not so much the queen of this country, but the M of MI5. I tried to decode one page, looking for the message I felt certain was hidden there. 
I tried, not too hard, but I really tried to eradicate them - ellipses... and dashes - from the whole manuscript. I dusted off my copy of Grammar For People Who Really Ought To Know and attempted to remember how to use the comma the old-fashioned way.

I left the ellipses for those moments of distraction or, as if often the case in NEAR EDGWARE, when someone is lying. 
Generally, I found I wasn't guilty of ellipse abuse. But, I have to admit to being totally addicted to em-dashes! I don't use them for interruptions, or events as sudden and unpredictable as... oh, I don't know... perhaps your boyfriend turning into a beast - lol. I tended to use them to add details, or to indicate the complex changes of thought people are, almost, unaware of doing when speaking. My story is written in first person narrative, so I'm sure you can see where the problem arises.
What is your writerly vice? Something you know you really shouldn't do but somehow you still keep doing it anyway?


  1. The old "er" and "uhm" and yes, fragmenting sentences to reflect how people really talk. Very distracting.

    And commas. Sometimes there are so many I wonder how my fingers do that so often without my noticing.

    At least you're catching yours! Leave the hair alone Elaine. It looks lovely atop your head.


  2. Hi Donna
    Don't you think people, and characters, just need to think through their sentences before opening their mouths? Then there's not changing their minds... or realising they are putting their foot in it! ;)

  3. I use the em dash more than I should, too! Love them! LOL!

  4. I'm a comma girl myself along with semi-colons although not using them in the proper place. Thank God for Grammar check.

  5. I do exactly the same thing with dashes -- and you're right -- people don't talk in full sentences...
    Seriously, I do clean them up occasionally but I don't worry too much about it. I just think "well, that's my style."

  6. Hi Jennifer and Laura
    I knew it couldn't only be me who uses dashes on repeat, they are just so... convenient. ;)

    Hi Anne Don't you think Word's grammar police is a little over-keen on semi-colons? Obviously, I don't argue with it often but... sometimes I ignore and favour the humble comma instead. :)

  7. Ah those ellipses are hard to get out too! Not like crutch words that you can easily find and delete. I edited a writer who put ellipses everywhere. He said, I pause a lot when I talk, so they just seem right. Well, no, they don't. They're a distraction! My weakness is exclamation points. I have to go back and take them out of my writing by the dozens!! But when I blog I can keep them in! Yay!!

  8. Hi Karen
    Umm, it is true, you just can't beat a good exclamation mark fest!!!
    Have I mentioned the word just? It's a great filler and time waster.

  9. LOL, I speak like that on a daily basis. Simple English and village Cypriot Greek. I hope you enjoyed a little bit of Cyprus, my new home.
    What school did you visit?

  10. You are truly saying that hair loss happen when you write something and that is unavoidable as you have to write always.