Requiem for a Website

In October of 2007, I entered a contest on gather.com — the Court TV Search for the Next Great Crime Writer contest. The winner of the contest would win a $5,000 advance and a publishing contract. My entry, More Deaths Than One, was not a detective story, and it certainly was not a cozy mystery, but it is the story of a crime: identity theft. This theft is an actual theft of a man’s identity, not a paper one.

I did very well in that contest, too. As of November 17, 2007, I was ranked number one, but I finished up about sixth or seventh. (I could tell you it was because my mother died and I had to go to California for her funeral and I broke my ankle while there and was off the internet for a week, but the truth is . . . come to think of it, I don’t know what the truth is.)

The contest started out being great fun but devolved into all sorts of infighting, faked votes, and terrible reviews that RIPwere posted for no other reason than meanness. Still, it turned out to be a pivotal point in my writing career.

I became friends with many of the contestants, and casual acquaintances with others. I met other writers that I am still connected with today.  Because of the contest, I eventually found a publisher. The link to the publisher’s website was posted as a comment on one of the writer’s articles, and since I was in querying mode, I immediately shot off a query letter. The publisher loved my book A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and sent me a contract. Turns out, I already knew him through the contest, and he asked if More Deaths Than One was still available. It was. Second Wind Publishing has now published five of my books — four novels and one non-fiction book, Grief: The Great Yearning.

Until the crime writer contest, my online presence had been confined to my blog, but after the contest I posted articles on gather, and I also migrated to other sites, such as Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter. I mostly hang around Facebook now because of my discussion groups there, but I always return to Gather, especially on Thursday evening when I used to do a live chat with my No Whine, Just Champagne discussion group. I started out knowing only a few people online, now I know hundreds.

And all because of a contest.

Now, Gather is in its death throes. Because of the spam that clogged the site, Google stopped referencing its content in searches. The site has been sold a couple of times, and neither of the new owners seemed to have any interest in revitalizing this once active online writers community.

Most of my Gather posts have been posted elsewhere, usually here on this blog, but a lot of the discussion topics were too brief for a blog post, so I’ve been mining the site so my content doesn’t get lost. Considering that there were almost two hundred live chats alone in my discussion group, that’s a lot of content! I hope I get time to go through the discussions and look for pithy comments I might have made, but if I don’t, well, no problem. Maybe my comments should pass into oblivion along with the site. And who knows, maybe someday the site will be resuscitated.

Until then, rest in peace, Gather.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

DeBacle (499 Word Contest Entry)

A couple of days ago I wrote Requiem For a Writing Contest to honor the passing of a 499-word Dan Brown tribute contest that used to be sponsored by a writing group I belonged to. Yesterday I posted a previous entry to the contest, and today I’m posting a third entry. This story snippet won a first place prize, and rightly so. The acrostic is made up of all the names of the members of the Writin’ Wombats, the group that sponsored the contest. I had fun doing the acrostic, but it took hours to come up with a message that made at least a little sense.  (FYI — FCR is an acronym for First Chapters Romance, a major writing contest with a book contract as a prize put on by Gather.com. Most of the people in the Wombat writing group met because of that contest, but I didn’t meet them until months later when I entered another first chapters contest on Gather — The Court TV Search for the Next Great Crime Writer contest. I came in about 6th or 7th, but in a round about way, because of that contest, I ended up with a book contract anyway.)

DEBACLE

Robert studied the words on the scorched document.

“Since you say it’s a victory, it’s vital I am not judged unless death intervenes. Just accept my elementary suggestions. Keep everything nice. More importantly, keep everything ready, and never destroy data. Always leave enough people around to create art. Think how you’ll persevere and ultimately live. Be eclectic and know everything. Reason won’t end now. Don’t you jape our heroes nor jail a man inappropriately. Each day and night accept joy in loving liberty.”

Four men, three Alsatians and one stray cat gave their lives to protect this message, and one woman severely burned her hand to save it from a fiery end, yet it seemed to be gibberish — the words, even the sentences made sense, but taken as a whole, they meant nothing.

The legend surrounding this fabled bit of parchment held that it contained the names of some very special people — writers who might make a difference, might even change the world. Why not? Other people had penned words that touched the hearts of millions. Of course, there was that one man whose very initials drew scorn and caused contests to be run in his dishonor, contests known only by the hated initials DB.

But this paper had nothing to do with that DeBacle. It was ancient, extending all the way back to the beginning, back to an era known by the cryptic initials FCR.

Robert sucked in a breath. Cryptic. That meant code, didn’t it? Perhaps the message was encoded. A simple substitution code perhaps. No one but he was intelligent enough to create a code more complex than that. He opened a desk drawer and pulled out a magnifying glass, intending to take a closer look at the matter, but a sound deflected his attention.

Drip. Drip.

Immediately an image formed in his mind of an albino with a severed hand, blood dripping from the stump. Wait. The albino had been in a previous book. And his hand hadn’t been severed; he’d been killed. Sheesh. How was he supposed to keep track of such details? He had more important things to do like . . . like . . . oh, yes, decode this message.

Clump. Clump.

A new sound accompanied the drip. Goosebumps covered his skin as the clumps drew closer. All the more reason to figure out the code quickly. It wouldn’t offer him immunity from a murderer, but it would give him a bargaining chip.

Drip. Drip. Clump. Clump.

No time to decipher the message now. Where could he hide it? He considered eating it — eeyuw — but once the words were digested, the meaning might still elude him.

Too late. The door burst open.

Sophie rushed inside, hair dripping, high heels caked in mud. “It’s raining out there. A day fit only for Wombats. Any luck figuring out the message?”

Heart hammering like an anvil, he managed a single word. “No.”

“Could it be an acrostic?”

“A what?”

“An acrostic. You know — you take the first letters of each word in order and see if they spell anything.”

“I knew that,” Robert said crossly. “Of course I knew that. I am a world-renowned cryptographer.”

He wrote out the first letter of each word, added appropriate spaces, and stared in amazement at the list of names that began with Sy and ended with Jill. Here was the solution! But which would be the next great wordsmith? And which, if any, would be the next DeBacle?

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the conspiracy novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+

Gather ‘Round and You Shall Hear . . . The Story of My Online Life

In October 2007, I entered a contest on gather.com — Court TV Search for the Next Great Crime Writer contest. The winner of the contest would win a $5,000 advance and a publishing contract. My entry, More Deaths Than One, was not a detective story, and it certainly is not a cozy mystery, but it is the story of a crime: identity theft. This theft is an actual theft of a man’s identity, not a paper one. So it did fit with the contest, though from reading the first chapter (all that was posted online for the contest), many people assumed it was a supernatural tale — as the blurb says, When Bob Stark returns home after spending eighteen years in Southeast Asia, he discovers that his mother Lydia Loretta Stark is dead again. When he attends her second funeral, he sees his brother, his college girlfriend, and . . . himself.

I did very well in that contest, too. As of November 17, 2007, I was ranked number one, but I finished up about sixth or seventh. (I could tell you it was because my mother died and I had to go to California for her funeral and I broke my ankle while there and was off the internet for a week so I couldn’t solicit votes, but the truth is . . . come to think of it, I don’t know what the truth is.)

The contest started out being great fun but devolved into all sorts of infighting, faked votes, and terrible reviews that were posted for no other reason than meanness. Still, it turned out to be a pivotal point in my online life and my writing career.

I became friends with many of the contestants, and casual acquaintances with others. (As Jeffrey Siger, one of the contestants said, it’s “sort of like the camaraderie born of battle or surviving a natural disaster: never to be taken as an endorsement of the event that engendered such strong ties among the the participants.”)

I met the group The Writin’ Wombats on Gather because of the contest, and ended up hanging around with them for all these years. Because of the contest, I eventually found a publisher. The link to the publisher’s website was posted on a Wombat thread, and since I was in querying mode, I immediately shot off a query letter. He loved my book A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and sent me a contract. Turns out, I already knew him through the contest, and he asked if More Deaths Than One was still available. It was. Second Wind Publishing has now published five of my books — four novels and one non-fiction book, Grief: The Great Yearning.

Until the crime writer contest, my online presence had been confined to my blog (I’d only had a computer and the internet a few months) but after the contest I posted articles on Gather, and I also migrated to other sites, such as Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter. I mostly hang around Facebook now because of my discussion groups there, but I always return to Gather, especially on Thursday evening when I do a live chat with my No Whine, Just Champagne discussion group. I started out knowing only a few people online, now I know hundreds.

And all because of a contest.

So, what was the pivotal point of your online life?

Live Chat About Writing

I have a chat group on Gather.com that meets  on Thursday at 9:00pm ET. This week (April 8, 2010) we will be meeting here: No Whine, Just Champagne Writing Discussion #105.

I missed the discussions the past couple of weeks. I always enjoy talking about writing even if I’m not actively involved in the pursuit of words, perfect or otherwise.

So, let’s talk. If you can’t attend the live discussion, feel free to discuss your writing here. As I said, I always enjoy talking about writing.

What have you been writing recently? If you haven’t been writing, what are you planning to write? How do the traumas or dramas of life affect your writing? Do make time to write regardless of the horrors life throws at you? Do you find comfort in writing, or does your make-believe world seem trivial in the face of real life traumas? How do you motivate yourself to write in such times, or do you just  . . . not write?  

A Shocking (And Embarrassing) Reality

I received my second royalty check yesterday and was shocked (and a bit embarrassed) by how few books I had sold online in the past couple of months. I’ve been a big advocate of online promotion, and I’ve had a great time connecting with people on Facebook, Gather, Twitter, Goodreads, this blog, and other sites. Apparently, however, while I’ve been making friends, I haven’t been making sales. I realize the economy is bad, that people are spending money for vacations and back to school clothes, that many people are without work, but that can’t be the total answer since 30% of each of my books is available as a free download on Smashwords. And people aren’t downloading them.

I’ve been saying all along that I’m missing a piece of the on-line promotion puzzle, and this just proves that I am right. To be honest, I still don’t know what that missing piece is. I get dozens of emails from authors telling me about their books, giving a synopsis and a plea to buy. I won’t follow their example. Such emails might work — people are kind and often will follow through — but I find them intrusive. And annoying. So annoying that I don’t even bother to read them. Since I won’t do unto others what I won’t let them do unto me, emailing people is out.

I know many authors who continually speak and write of their books, cramming them down our gullets until we want to scream. We can’t scream, of course, because that book is gagging us. That’s why you never hear a protest against this sort of tactic.

I could do what other authors are doing — give up on promotion to concentrate on writing another book that might be “the one.” The problem with this (for me, anyway) is that I already have two more books that will soon be published. Daughter Am I (sort of a gangsterish book with my own twist on the bootlegger story) will be published in August, and Light Bringer (sort of a science fiction, alternate history, retelling of human history novel, with my own twist on the past), will be published in November.

I can see one problem — I can’t write an elevator speech! After all this time, I still don’t know how to describe my books in a single sentence. Nor have I figured out my genre. One reader emailed me (yes, I do read and respond happily to emails from people who aren’t trying to sell me something unless it is one of those endlessly forwarded messages that no one ever reads). She commented: I now see what you mean about an unnamed genre. Kind of a big picture conspiracy, behind the scenes machinations and how that affects the little guy (or gal) on the street. (Thank you, Wanda!)

So, what’s the answer? I promise, when I figure it out, I will let you know. By November, I hope. Light Bringer is my magnum opus (of the four people who have read it, two called it brilliant; the other two merely said it was wonderful), but how magnum can an opus be if no one reads it?

Meantime, my fame, such as it is, is spreading. In the past few days, I found my name in four different blog posts and links to my blogs in a couple of surprising places:

Murder in the Wind — I won! Thank you! By Sheila Deeth

I blog, you blog, we all blog — Why? By Claire Collins

To Kindle or Not to Kindle by Norm Brown

Interview with Alan Baxter on Smashwords

Bookselling Links on the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association website

Yahoo Answers

It’s a good beginning.

add to del.icio.us : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook

Who Are Your Writing Influences?

During my No Whine, Just Champagne writing chat on Gather.com last night, we discussed our styles and who influenced us the most. I’d never really thought about it before, but if anyone influenced me, it would probably be Taylor Caldwell for two vastly different reasons. One, I like books that tell of unknown events or show history in a different light or speak of real life conspiracies, and she did that very well. Two, she had an execrable style (in one book I swear she used the word inexorable on every other page. About drove me nuts.) which taught me to pay attention to what I want to say, don’t duplicate words or effects, and write shorter books.

As fellow Nowhiner, Sia McKye wrote, “I liked some of her story premises, but damn, I swear that woman could spend 15 pages describing the turning of a leaf, or a field. sheesh. You could condense her story by 40% and not lose the story, just the extra stuff.” Amen to that. So, I have tried to tell interesting stories with an historical/conspiratorial slant, and while I do put in a bit of historical background, I do not spend pages describing leaves. Nor have I ever used the word inexorable. Okay, once as a private joke, but that’s all.

Another Nowhiner, one of the best style mimics I ever came across, posted the following piece:

I would have to say that there is nothing in life sweeter than partaking of a nice piece of cheesecake at the Broadway Deli, saying hello to the dames as they walk by, talking with my friends from the track, and reading Damon Runyon, whose style is unique among mortals.

Or Hemingway. I read him in college. He was good.

Elmore Leonard walked into my living room with a large suitcase, a gun and an attitude. “Whats up” I asked him. He didn’t answer or smile, before he shot me through the heart. Now there is some style, I thought just before I died.

Ann Tyler, invited me to her large house in Baltimore, and allowed me to sit in her parlor, while she continued her often interrupted monologue with Silky, the cat who had belonged to her first husband’s daughter’s girl friend Ramona. The third time the phone rang, it was Ramona herself, and the monologue became a dialog, from which I learned a good deal about the complex relationships among those who had inhabited this world.

See what you’re missing? You are welcome to join us any time. The group No Whine, Just Champagne meets every Thursday at 9:00 pm ET for a live chat, though the discussion continues on unlive after the chat is finished.

So, I told you my writing influence; who are yours?

The Future of Books: The Problem of Filtering (Part 2)

My guest blogger today is Dale Cozort, author of American Indian Victories. This is the second in a three part series discussing the future of books. Normally I don’t post such long articles, but I thought Cozort’s analysis was too important to edit down. Cozort writes: 

Part one looked at how the filters that keep readers from having to sort through a glut of really bad writing are breaking down.  This section will look at how authors and readers can adapt to a world where the traditional filters are less useful. Part three will look at how publishers might react to reestablish their role in filtering.  

New Types of “Brand Names”: With the glut of books, readers are looking for ways of to be sure they are getting good quality reading material.  In that environment, “brand names”-names that readers have heard of-sell books, even if the names have little to do with publishing.  Celebrity is its own brand name.  Oprah’s book selections come to mind.  Fortunately or unfortunately, talk show hosts with the ability to attract readers are scarce. We probably won’t see book recommendations from say Jerry Springer.  (Shudder) 

We will probably see celebrities of other kinds acting as filters in various ways though.  Politicians like Newt Gingrich and actors like William Shatner have gotten into the book business.  Celebrity “bookshelves” or endorsements on Amazon.com and the like would sell books too, but would probably be too expensive in most cases, though actors and celebrities in certain niches might find that it’s a good way to keep their names in the public eye.  Would you be more willing to try a book from someone you’ve never heard of if it was on an Amazon bookshelf from say Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy, Angel and Firefly) or one of the actors from his shows?  If you loved those shows you might, and if the quality was high, you might try others from his shelf (assuming that he had one).  Popular bloggers sometimes get into the book filtering business too, recommending books and sometimes writing their own books. 

Popular writers can act as filters too.  Authors do recommend promising new writers to agents and publishers.  They sometimes offer blurbs to promising young authors or recommend them in their blogs.  Some popular authors near the end of their careers as writers have taken to being “co-authors” with a collection of promising young authors, basically lending their name (and probably some polish) to books written mainly by the younger or lesser known author.  The popular author’s name on the book attracts readers, acting as kind of a filter while pointing fans to good new authors. 

I could see aging but still popular and intellectually active science fiction authors like Jerry Pournelle or Robert Silverberg doing virtual bookshelves of promising new science fiction on Amazon in exchange for a share of the revenue from any traffic driven to the books on their shelves. Another possibility: publishers could set up boutique brands of “X-famous author Recommends” books, letting the author act as screener and to some extent putting his status as a brand name on the line.  That might also be a way for an up and coming independent press to differentiate itself, though the cost of bringing a big name in may be prohibitive. 

Data Mining: In a world with a glut of choices in books, figuring out reader preferences and directing them to books they’ll like can be great for both authors and readers.  Amazon is often very good at this.  Their recommendations based on previous purchases can be extremely well targeted.  To some extent their data mining replaces the old bookstore owner who knew the customers tastes and could direct them to good new authors. 

From a reader’s point of view, sites like Goodreads or Shelfari can do some of the same things.  If I see a reader with ten or twenty percent of their Goodreads library in common with mine I know that there is a good chance I’ll like the other books they’re reading too.  Sites like that would be even more helpful for finding new books to read if readers could sort other readers by percentage of books in common.  Goodreads is to some extent an amplified word of mouth. 

Word of mouth/social networking: Speaking of word of mouth, it can be important as a filter too, but for some reason doesn’t seem to work as well for books as it does for movies.  Part of the problem is our diversity of tastes in books.  Social networking may amplify the role of word of mouth, but so many aspiring authors are trying to manipulate it in various ways that it may not be particularly effective. 

Websites/blogs: Author websites and blogs may give readers some idea if they are going to like an author or not.  From a reader’s point of view it’s probably a good idea to look for an author’s blog or website if you’re not sure you want to take a chance on a book.  If the blog or website is not professional the book may not be either.  If you don’t like the writing style on the blog, that’s a good sign you won’t like the writing in the book either.  The flip side of that is that authors need to make sure their websites look professional and make a good impression.  That’s a do as I say not as I do thing.  My website badly needs remodeling.  

“The Wisdom of Crowds”: A couple of years ago someone at social networking website Gather.com had what seemed to be a brilliant idea: Stage an American Idol-style contest for unpublished authors.  The winner would get a publishing contract with Simon and Schuster and a big boost in sales from their exposure during the competition.  It would be democracy in action.  Readers would choose who got published.  Well, for a variety of reasons it didn’t work out that way, though two reasonably worthy winners did eventually emerge. 

The concept has been tried a few times since then, both by Gather and by Amazon.com, but in both cases the ‘popular vote’ element has been toned down.  In both of the subsequent Gather contests, the eventual winner received little popular attention during the contest and little advertising boost from the victory.  I still think there’s potential in the approach, but nobody seems to have found the right formula yet.  All of the contests so far have suffered from a common problem: not enough impartial readers participating.  There is also an inherent problem with the approach.  If a publisher’s marketing people don’t like a book or understand its appeal that makes it hard for them to market that book effectively. 

Web forums: As an author, it’s a good idea to have some presence on various on-line forums related to your subject matter, but you’ve got to be careful not to let them eat up too much of your writing time.  You’ll also need to learn how to avoid trolls, flame wars and the usual Internet hazards.  If a major hunk of your potential audience decides you’re a jerk, then you probably aren’t helping yourself.  If you get a good reputation on the forums but don’t get stuff written you’ve defeated the purpose of the exercise.  Also, be aware that a good reputation in an Internet forum is a very transient thing, as are boosts from blogging and web posts.  If you don’t maintain a consistent presence any impression you have made will quickly be forgotten. 

Free samples: Baen Books, a science fiction publisher, has a program where people can download free e-books of some of their authors’ older books.  The idea is that readers will get hooked on the free samples and then go out and buy the newer books from those authors.  Apparently that has worked fairly well.  The key here though is that these are books that have already been through the filtering process at a traditional publisher, and the authors have other books that have also been through that process.  Giving away e-books is probably not going to work for most aspiring authors, though some other kinds of free samples may. 

New technology: The first few good writers who hop on a new technology that takes off can often establish a good readership.  In the early days of the World Wide Web it was relatively easy to establish a good-sized niche readership if you consistently had something interesting to say.  Good writers who jumped into blogging early and consistently did well.  Those niches fill up quickly though, and it becomes more and more difficult to attract readers.  Technology advances will undoubtedly open up more niches like that.  The key for aspiring authors is to recognize technologies that are likely to take off and get into them early.  That’s much easier said than done.  You can waste a lot of time on things that look promising but never really amount to much. 

So, do I have a magic key to solving the filtering problem and getting authors together with their audiences?  Yes, but I’m going to keep it a secret and use it to become fabulously rich.  Just kidding.  I don’t think any one thing is going to fix the problems or even that all of the things I’ve mentioned are going to solve the problems.  Readers, authors and publishers are going to be living in an environment where many times readers never find authors that they would love, where good authors often never find their audience, and where publishers never find authors the public would love.  At the same time we’ll be living in an environment where readers have more choice in their reading than ever before.  They’ll have to work harder to exercise it, but it will be there. 

Finally, if you’re an aspiring writer be a reader too.  Go out and do what you have to do to find good books from authors you’ve never heard of before and from publishers you’ve never heard of before.  You’ll find some “bad karaoke” writing, but you’ll also find some gems and reading those gems will make you a better writer.  When you find good writing tell your friends about it.

The Future of Books: The Problem of Filtering (Part 1)
The Future of Books: The Problem of Filtering (Part 3)

—– 

Dale Cozort is author of American Indian Victories.  Visit his website at www.DaleCozort.com

How Do You Create an Experience for the Reader?

My writing group – No Whine, Just Champagne — will be hosting a live discussion (#39) tonight at 9:00pm ET, as we do every Thursday. To participate, you need to be a member of Gather (free) but anyone can follow the discussion. Since Gather does not have an IM set up, you have to keep refreshing the page, but that’s a small enough price to pay for such wisdom. (I’m not being completely facetious; many good points are made during the discussion.)

Tonight’s topic,  “How do you create an experience for the reader?” poses a good question because when it comes to fiction it is the only question. Without an experience, the reader has no reason to read. In the end, that is why we read — to experience what we don’t experience in our everyday lives. Even in stories that seem to be a rehash of everyday life, we can experience something new, such as a different perspective.

There is only one way to create an experience for the reader: through the use of words. Short words, short sentences, short paragraphs give a feeling of immediacy, of something happening, of peril even. Longer sentences and paragraphs give a feeling of thoughtfulness, respite. You can create an experience by focusing on the experience — description, dialogue, action. Or you can create an experience indirectly by focusing on something other than the experience – by focusing on a lone daisy petal to evoke a feeling of love lost.

After tonight’s discussion, I’m sure I’ll come away with a better understanding of how to create an experience for the reader. And so can you.

How do You Solve the Problem of Exposition in Your Writing?

“Exposition is a device for introducing characters, to provide setting, for creating tone, to explain ideas, to analyze background. Exposition should be immediately related to the event that causes its presence. The subject should be relevant to the circumstances, otherwise it’s a distraction that does not contribute.” -Leonard Bishop, Dare to Be a Great Writer

We all know enough about writing to understand that in today’s market, we need to keep exposition should to a minimum. Despite that, we often have to support our premises with facts or explain the reasoning behind that premise.

For my novel Light Bringer, I created a discussion group for people who believed in conspiracies. While each argued for his or pet conspiracy theory, sometimes quite humorously, I was able to expose an alternate view of history without having one character giving a long and boring lecture. The group also functioned as a cast to pull from whenever I needed a character to play a bit part.

For Daughter Am I, I created a character who loved to lecture. Though perhaps he told too much, it did go to character.

For A Spark of Heavenly Fire and More Deaths Than One, I had characters go in search of the information because I thought that if characters wanted the information badly enough, readers would also want the information and hence tolerate the intrusion of fact.

So how do you solve the problem of exposition? Do you dump it in all at once to get it over with? Do you parcel it out a bit at a time? Do you have one character tell another? Do you have a character seek it out? Do they read it somewhere, such as in an article or online? And how do you make it interesting for the reader?

My writing discussion group No Whine, Just Champagne on Gather.com will exchange ideas about exposition during our Live Discussion on Thursday, October 16 at 9:00pm ET. Hope to see you there!

Free Exclamation Points for Everyone!!!

In celebration of National Punctuation Day (it was four days ago, but who’s counting?) I’m giving away exclamation points to everyone to use as you wish. Or better yet, to not use.

During an online discussion about punctuation, a participant said she wanted one basic rule for exclamation points. My response: “If you want just one rule for exclamation points? Don’t use them.” We get so used to flinging exclamation points around in online comments and emails that we think they belong everywhere, but an exclamation point is often an unnecessary elbow nudge.

“Oh, how fun.”

“Oh, how fun!”

“Oh, how fun,” he exclaimed.

“Oh, how fun!” he exclaimed.

The exclamation in the first example is understood, so a period works just fine. The middle two examples are gramatically correct, though they do tend to poke you in the side to make sure you get the point. The exclamation point in the fourth example is redundant if you use the speaker attribute. And the speaker attribute is telling something we already know if you use the exclamation point. Of course, pointing this out will not change your ways; despite rules and helpful hints, we all have our own quirks when it comes to punctuation, and as I learned during the discussion, we will argue our points even when proven wrong.

So, use or do not use your free exclamation points. They are yours. A gift from me.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,405 other followers