Posted in From The Editor's Desk, Literary Arts Series, Monday Musings, Quote, Writing

Mark Twain on Writing: “Kill your adjectives”

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Mark Twain, who read widely, was passionately interested in the problems of style; the mark of the strictest literary sensibility is everywhere to be found in the prose of Huckleberry Finn . . . He is the master of the style that escapes the fixity of the printed page, that sounds in our ears with the immediacy of the heard voice, the very voice of unpretentious truth.

Lionel Trilling, “Mark Twain’s Colloquial Prose Style”, from The Liberal Imagination, 1950

Mark Twain

Twain was often asked for advice on the art and craft of writing. Sometimes he responded seriously, sometimes not.  Here’s a piece of writing advice on from a letter he wrote on 20 March 1880 to a student named D.W. Bowser:

“I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English—it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them—then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.”

I often tell my editing clients one of my favorite pieces of advice he gave. Twain famously said:

“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” 


Bonus: “Give A Lick: Literary Postage Stamps” information for you philatelists! 

Mark Twain 44¢
(1835-1910)
Mark Twain
Issue Date: June 25, 2011
City: Hannibal, MO
Quantity: 50,000,000

Mark Twain is the 27th honoree in the Literary Arts series. “Our literary tribute this year rightfully honors Mark Twain, author of one of the greatest novels in American literature and the man whom William Faulkner called ‘the first truly American writer,’ said Postal Service Board of Governors member James H. Bilbray. “Mark Twain was a rarity, as he was one of the first writers to exploit the vernacular voice in his books, using the speech of common Americans,” Bilbray said.

Samuel Clemens’ family moved to the banks of the mighty Mississippi River when he was just a child.  Clemens developed a love for the river that would stay with him his entire life.

As a young man, Clemens met a steamboat pilot named Horace Bixby.  That’s when he decided to learn the craft, becoming one of the best pilots on the river.

As an author, Clemens took his pen name from his experiences on the water.  The Mississippi River is difficult to navigate.  To “mark twain” meant the water had been measured and was a safe depth.  In 1863, Clemens began writing as Mark Twain.

If it had not been for the Civil War, Twain may have remained a pilot who occasionally wrote newspaper articles.  But most business travel stopped along the Mississippi during these years, so Twain went back to writing.  His humorous stories of life on the river were a hit with readers then and remain popular today.

In 2010, the first volume of Twain’s autobiography was published.  It was his wish that it not be released until 100 years after his death so that he might speak his “whole frank mind.”  The volume offers a glimpse into the real Samuel Clemens – a man with strong political and social views who nevertheless entertained millions with riveting tales of life on the Mississippi.

More on the “Give A Lick: Literary Postage Stamp” Series

Dorothy Parker and John Steinbeck
Flannery O’Connor and Ralph Ellison
James Thurber and Ogden Nash
Bonus: James Thurber Cartoon 

 

 

Posted in From The Editor's Desk, Language, Shakespeare

“Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once.” (Julius Caesar, Act II, Scene 2)

Taking a page (see what I did there? ) from the earlier blog post this week on Shakespeare, and bringing you, the reader,  interesting information on how the characters die in Shakespearean plays, and their violent ends.

One does not have to look far to find the central theme of Death in Shakespeare’s plays. Stabbed, poisoned, stabbed and poisoned, snakebite, beheaded, lack of sleep (Lady Macbeth), a broken heart (Lady Montague), and smothered (Desdemona), are just a few of the ways the characters have died.  There are 74 deaths in Shakespearean plays.

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Causes of Death in Shakespeare plays chart via https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CVz6SWOVEAAlsQI.png

 

Poisoning

No, no, the drink, the drink, – O my dear Hamlet,-
The drink, the drink! I am poison’d.
Queen Gertrude, Hamlet
Act V, Scene II

Arms, take your last embrace. And, lips, O you
The doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss
A dateless bargain to engrossing death.
(kisses JULIET, takes out the poison)
Come, bitter conduct, come, unsavoury guide.
Thou desperate pilot, now at once run on
The dashing rocks thy seasick, weary bark.
Here’s to my love! (drinks the poison) O true apothecary,
Thy drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die.

Romeo, Romeo and Juliet
Act V, Scene III

Stabbed

Yea, noise? Then I’ll be brief. O happy dagger,
This is thy sheath. There rust and let me die.
(stabs herself with ROMEO’s dagger and dies)
Juliet,
Romeo and Juliet
Act V, Scene III

Editor’s Note: this can also double in the category of Suicide

Suicide

Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have
Immortal longings in me.
Cleopatra, Antony and Cleopatra
Act V, Scene II

Editor’s Note: Cleopatra puts an asp to her breast and it bites her. She dies from its venom.

…his fiend-like queen,
Who, as ’tis thought, by self and violent hands
Took off her life;
Malcolm, Macbeth
Act V, Scene VIII

Editor’s Note: Malcolm is talking about Lady Macbeth. We find out in Act V, Scene V that she is dead. In the last lines of Macbeth does the reader infer that she committed suicide.

Baked in a Pie

I think Lavinia’s death in Titus Andronicus is probably the most gruesome for me. First, she is raped by Chiron and Demetrius, then her tongue is cut out and her hands are cut off so she can’t incriminate them. Once she uses a staff in her mouth to spell out their names, her father, Titus, cuts their throats, and uses their blood in the meat pie.  Titus then kills Lavinia.

Die, die, Lavinia, and thy shame with thee;
[Kills LAVINIA]
And, with thy shame, thy father’s sorrow die!

Editor’s Note: When Titus learns that Chiron and Demetrius have raped and dismembered his daughter, he not only kills them but bakes them into a pie that he feeds to their mother, Tamora.

Why, there they are both, baked in that pie;
Whereof their mother daintily hath fed,
Eating the flesh that she herself hath bred.
‘Tis true, ’tis true; witness my knife’s sharp point.
Titus Andronicus, Titus Andronicus
Act V, Scene III

In Twelfth Night, The FOOL sings in  Act II, Scene IV:

Come away, come away, death,
And in sad cypress let me be laid.
Fly away, fly away breath,
I am slain by a fair cruel maid.
My shroud of white, stuck all with yew,
O, prepare it!
My part of death, no one so true
Did share it.
Not a flower, not a flower sweet
On my black coffin let there be strown.
Not a friend, not a friend greet
My poor corpse, where my bones shall be thrown.
A thousand thousand sighs to save,
Lay me, O, where
Sad true lover never find my grave,

To weep there!

 

In short form, Shakespeare’s Tragedies: Everybody Dies.

Plus, the best death ever, in my opinion is the stage direction from The Winter’s Tale. [Exit, pursued by a bear], from Act III, Scene 3. 

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Shakespeare’s Tragedies: Everybody Dies graphic, original concept by Cam Magee. Design ©Caitlin S Griffin 2012. Courtesy of Flavorwire.

 

Did You Know?

Detailing all of the Bard’s 74 scripted deaths, there will be a play in May 2016 called The Complete Deaths.  Performed by just four actors, it will open at the Northampton Royal and Derngate Theatre in Northampton, UK before heading to the Brighton Festival for its official premiere and touring the country.

For Further Reading

Anne R. Allen’s Poisoning People for Fun and Profit — Part 1: Digitalis

Amanda Mabillard’s  Violence in Shakespeare’s Plays.

No Sweat Shakespeare’s Violence in Macbeth.

Folger Shakespeare Library’s Famous Last Words From Shakespeare.

The Dead and the Dying make for Live! Theater

Posted in From The Editor's Desk, Language, Word Wednesday

Guinness World Records Words

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Guinness World Records 
Words

 

Note From the Editor’s Desk:

I enjoyed researching this so much that I decided to give you, the readers, a Word Wednesday Lagniappe.

 

Longest English word consisting of only vowels

Euouae — Medieval musical term which indicates the vowels of the syllables of “seculorum Amen,” which ends the “Gloria Patri.”

Longest English word with letters arranged in alphabetical order

Aegilops —  1) A genus of goatgrass;  2) Stye in inner corner of eye

Shortest word in the English language that contains all five vowels

Eunoia — “beautiful thinking” or denotes a normal mental state.

Longest English word consisting strictly of alternating consonants and vowels

Honorificabilitudinitatibus —“With honorableness” (a nonsense word from medieval literature).

Longest English word in which each letter occurs at least twice

Unprosperousness — The state or condition of being unprosperous.

Longest English word with only one vowel

Strengths — The quality or state of being strong, in particular.

Longest English word with letters arranged in reverse alphabetical order

Spoonfeed — Feed (someone) by using a spoon, or provide (someone) with so much help or information that they do not need to think for themselves.

Guinness World Records and image ©Guiness World Records
Posted in From The Editor's Desk, punctuation

Punctilious Punctuation: Single or Double Quotation Marks

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I wear many hats when I’m editing, including switching between American English (AmE) and British English (BrE), depending on what manuscript I am working on.  Did you know that there are different grammatical conventions depending on which side of the pond you are on?

British English prefers the term Inverted Commas when they talk about speech marks or quotation marks. Do you know when to use them, and whether to use single or double?

British English prefers single inverted commas, while American English prefers double.

Ronald B. McKerrow states, “Inverted commas were, until late in the seventeenth century, frequently used at the beginnings of lines to call attention to sententious remarks….They were not especially associated with quotations until the eighteenth century.”

The Oxford Dictionary ruling says,

“There’s no rule about which to use but you should stick to one or the other throughout a piece of writing. Single inverted commas are generally more common in British English while American English tends to prefer double ones.

If you find that you need to enclose quoted material within direct speech or another quotation, use the style you haven’t used already. So, if you’ve been using single inverted commas, put any further quoted material within double ones and vice versa.”

 

Rules of Quotation Marks / Inverted Commas:
American English vs. British English

American style uses double quotes (“) for initial quotations, then single quotes (‘) for quotations within the initial quotation.

“Economic systems,” according to Professor White, “are an inevitable byproduct of civilization, and are, as John Doe said, ‘with us whether we want them or not.’”

British style uses single quotes (‘) for initial quotations, then double quotes (“) for quotations within the initial quotation.

 ‘Economic systems’, according to Professor White, ‘are an inevitable byproduct of civilization, and are, as John Doe said, “with us whether we want them or not”’.

The above examples also show that the American style places commas and periods inside the quotation marks, even if they are not in the original material. British style (more sensibly) places unquoted periods and commas outside the quotation marks. For all other punctuation, the British and American styles are in agreement: unless the punctuation is part of the quoted material, it goes outside the quotation marks.

 

From The Punctuation Guide. This is one of my go-to references, when I am wearing many hats and working in British English.

punctuation-marks-quotation-marks

For Further Reading:

“British versus American style.” The Punctuation Guide. http://www.thepunctuationguide.com/british-versus-american-style.html

Fowler, H.W.  “Chapter IV: Punctuation. Quotation Marks.” The King’s English, 2nd edition. 1908. http://www.bartleby.com/116/406.html

Garber, Marjorie. “” ” (quotation Marks)”. Critical Inquiry 25.4 (1999): 653–679.

Heisel, Andrew. “Single Quotes or Double Quotes? It’s Really Quite Simple.” Slate Magazine. October 21, 2014.   http://www.slate.com/blogs/lexicon_valley/2014/10/21/single_quotes_or_double_quotes_it_s_really_quite_simple.html

McKerrow, Ronald B. An Introduction to Bibliography for Literary Students. Oxford, 1927. page 316.
Man with many hats image courtesy of Maggie Summers
Posted in book lists, From The Editor's Desk

What’s On Your Bookshelf?

IMG_4987With yet another book arriving in the mailbox this week, I was thinking …  What are your indispensable “go-to” books for your craft? There are certain books I always have open bookmarked to certain pages, or they fall open to the proper page since I have opened them enough that the binding is broken to that spot. [It makes me sad, as a bibliophile, when that happens … but, that’s a different blog post ].

The latest addition to the bookshelf for me is that little book on the top of the stack, Sarah Harrison Smith’s The Fact Checker’s Bible — A Guide to Getting it Right.

Now you are wondering, why these books? Why are they my essentials? Here is why.

 

41DHFqpNjkL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_ The Copyeditor’s Handbook —A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications
Amy Einsohn

Einsohn’s book is a perfect companion to The Chicago Manual of Style, for me. It emphasizes the practical, how-to be a real-life copyeditor:  punctuation, grammar issues, reference books, and on-screen editing; it is 550 pages of valuable knowledge.  It gives you exercises to keep your editor’s red pen sharp. My copy is highlighted and marked up on various segments that I keep going back to on a regular basis.

…[A] copyeditor must read the document letter by letter, word by word, with excruciating care and attentiveness. In many ways, being a copyeditor is like sitting for an English exam that never ends: At any moment, your knowledge of spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, syntax, and diction is being tested.

 

41M6DLO-CFL._SX373_BO1,204,203,200_The Associated Press Stylebook 2015
Associated Press

Required for journalism students and essential in print journalism (except for The New York Times which has its own stylebook in place), AP Stylebook provides consistent guidelines for content continuity from many writers, editors, and publishers working together. Grammar, punctuation, and language usage are all covered, including consistency, clarity, accuracy and brevity.

AP Stylebook also has an online version, which is peppered with topical guides such as the 2016 Election Guide: Political Titles, Terminology, Institutions and Key Events.

The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression513vzjIHIOL._SX348_BO1,204,203,200_
Angela Ackerman

Do you ever find yourself using the same phrase over and over again to describe what your character is feeling? This book by Angela Ackerman will help you  find physical, internal and mental cues for all the emotions you might need in your writing. It also helps me find the right word or phrase to help vary your manuscript and make a stronger statement, to connect with your reader.
For example, Impatience.

  • Clicking one’s fingernails against a table
  • Narrowing eyes, a look of intense focus that can be mistaken for anger
  • A sharp tone, using as few words as possible to answer
  • Attention that snaps toward small sounds or movement
  • Complaining to others or mumbling under one’s breath: “Where is he?” or “What is taking so long?”
  • Fussing with one’s appearance (brushing lint from a sleeve, applying lip gloss)
  • Feeling exhausted or strained to the limits

 

41QY5MTRQQL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_The Fact Checker’s Bible — A Guide to Getting It Right
Sarah Harrison Smith

This is my latest acquisition for the bookshelf.  Smith used to be a fact-checker for the New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine, and is now teaching at John Hopkins University. This is an essential guide to the neglected task of checking facts, no matter what the source.  In this day and age of information overload, we need to be able to determine the reliability of what we read. In the back is a helpful list of resources in subjects ranging from wine to films.

 

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Garner’s Modern American Usage
Brian A. Garner

David Foster Wallace said in his essay Democracy, English and the Wars over Usage, “Garner’s dictionary is extremely good…its format… includes entries on individual words and phrases and expostulative small-cap MINI-ESSAYS.But the really distinctive and ingenious features of A Dictionary of Modern American Usage involve issues of rhetoric and ideology and style.”[1]

For my editing purposes, it covers usage, pronunciation, and style: troublesome words and phrases— imply vs. infer; word entries that clarify two terms (site, sight); the 9-page Punctuation, from Apostrophe to Virgule — my favorite section, Punctuation;  Sesquipedality (the use of big words); and the “Language Change Index“— which measures “how widely accepted various linguistic innovations have become.”

 

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The Chicago Manual of Style — The Essential Guide for Writers, Editors, and Publishers
16th Edition (2010)
University of Chicago

If you are a writer or an editor, you need this book. Either the physical copy, or subscribe to their online service. [Or do both, like I do!].  CMOS online has answered so many questions about rules. Yes, rules. They exist,and CMOS is a wonderful source for learning new rules.
It keeps up-to-date on the latest advances. The sixteenth edition includes publishing electronic publications, web-based content and e-books. I can’t live without their Hyphenation Table, and the updated Unicode numbers for special characters.

Now it’s your turn : What’s on YOUR bookshelf? 

~Footnotes~

1.Wallace, David Foster (April 2001). “Tense Present: Democracy, English, and the Wars over Usage”. Harper’s Magazine. Harper’s Magazine Foundation. http://instruct.westvalley.edu/lafave/DFW_present_tense.html