Friday, January 31, 2014

Run-on Sentences

Okay, it’s time. It’s time to air a pet peeve. And what is it? It’s the run-on sentence. Why is it time to air my complaint? It’s because I find them in books. Novels. Yes, professional publications that people pay money for because they are interested in reading, expecting the writer to be an expert in his or her craft.

I need to take a huge, humble step backward before I continue. I am a writer too—as well as an English major, an English teacher, and a paid editor—and yet, I also am guilty of making mistakes. I paid a proofreader for Skeleton Key a couple of years ago. She was about 100 years old and wrote in a scratchy scrawl that I could barely read, but I had a train wreck as a major part of my plot. Part of the investigation centered on the train’s brakes. The lady made a note that I eventually deciphered to be “I think you spelled brakes wrong.” Well, I pulled out my document and did a word search for breaks and brakes. Of the fifteen uses of the word, I’d spelled it b-r-e-a-k-s seven times. My proofer found it once, but it was enough. I’m not perfect, and I don’t expect others to be perfect. Since, however, grammar and punctuation is part of our writing craft, writers ought to learn what run-on sentences are and learn the myriad ways of fixing them.

One more comment. As an editor, I’m not too bothered with sentence fragments. Often they’re intentional—for emphasis. Often they’re necessary for dialogue to sound natural. I usually leave them as is, but run-ons are simply a matter of punctuation. People don’t speak in run-on sentences because if I were to transcribe their words, I would put in the necessary punctuation. So here is a definition and a quick lesson on how to fix a run-on sentence.

This is the modified, Jeff LaFerney, teacherish definition of a run-on sentence:  Two (or more) complete sentences (independent clauses) that have been joined together without an appropriate conjunction (joining word) and/or an appropriate mark of punctuation.

These are run-on sentences:

1.   Cole Flint loved to ride on motorcycles he time traveled on a Kawasaki Ninja to the Smoky Mountains.

2.   Cole Flint loved to ride on motorcycles, he time traveled on a Kawasaki Ninja to the Smoky Mountains.

A comma does NOT fix a run-on.  So what can be done to fix this silly mistake?

1.   Use a period and a capital letter.  [Cole Flint loved to ride on motorcycles. He time traveled on a Kawasaki Ninja to the Smoky Mountains.]

2.   Use a semi-colon.  [Cole Flint loved to ride on motorcycles; he time traveled on a Kawasaki Ninja to the Smoky Mountains.]

3.   Use a comma and a coordinating conjunction.  [Cole Flint loved to ride on motorcycles, so he time traveled on a Kawasaki Ninja to the Smoky Mountains.] And, but, or, nor, for, yet, and so are coordinating conjunctions.

4.   Use a conjunctive adverb along with a semi-colon and a comma.  [Cole Flint loved to ride on motorcycles; therefore, he time traveled on a Kawasaki Ninja to the Smoky Mountains.] Accordingly, also, besides, consequently, conversely, finally, furthermore, hence, however, instead, likewise, meanwhile, moreover, nevertheless, nonetheless, otherwise, similarly, still, subsequently, therefore, and thus are examples of conjunctive adverbs.

5.   Make one of the sentences into a dependent clause (or subordinate clause) using a subordinating conjunction. [Because Cole Flint loved to ride on motorcycles, he time traveled on a Kawasaki Ninja to the Smoky Mountains.] You could make either sentence dependent (or subordinate).  [Cole Flint loved to ride on a Kawasaki Ninja motorcycle whenever he time traveled to the Smoky Mountains.] You could even change the order of the sentences when you connect them properly. [Cole Flint time traveled on a Kawasaki Ninja to the Smoky Mountains since he loved to ride on motorcycles.] After, although, as, because, before, if, lest, once, since, though, unless, until, when, whenever, whereas, wherever, and while are examples of subordinating conjunctions.

6.   Use a non-essential clause or an appositive. [Cole Flint, who loved to ride on motorcycles, time traveled on a Kawasaki Ninja to the Smoky Mountains.] Or [Cole Flint, a lover of motorcycles, time traveled on a Kawasaki Ninja to the Smoky Mountains.]

7.   Hook the sentences using a gerund phrase (-ing verbal that is used as a noun phrase). [Riding on motorcycles was so much fun that Cole Flint time traveled on a Kawasaki Ninja to the Smoky Mountains.] Or [Cole Flint loved time traveling on his Kawasaki Ninja to the Smoky Mountains.]

Before I bore you completely with all the other creative ways I can combine those two sentences, I’ll stop and make my final few points. A good writer needs to have a variety of sentences. Variety in style, length, and verb placement are all ways to make the reading more interesting. Often, therefore, more than one complete thought needs to be joined together. As a writer—an expert at the craft—there are many, many ways to do it without writing a run-on sentence. There are loads of awesome sites to inform you about dependent and independent clauses, conjunctions, semi-colons and commas, and run-on sentences; and writers should make good use of them. A good mechanic knows the parts of an engine and what they do to make the engine run efficiently. A good writer should know his or her craft in the same way. What are the parts and how do they work together to make efficient sentences? Personal pet peeve or not, I believe writers have a responsibility to their readers to produce good writing which surely includes no run-on sentences.

Cole Flint is the main character from Jeff LaFerney's time travel adventure called Jumper.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Common Spelling Errors

As a language arts teacher, I see misspellings so often, I think my brain has been damaged and my spelling skills are deteriorating. I ran into a gentleman a few days ago who read Loving the Rain, and he asked me point blank, “How do you spell rout when it applies to a blowout in a sporting event?” I replied, “r-o-u-t” and he said, “Correct. So why did you spell it r-o-u-t-e in your book?” I could only answer, “Because I’ve been a language arts teacher for 27 years and my brain is mush.”  He seemed to understand. However, I actually spell better than most people, and I happen to talk to people and read things they write quite often. Since I am the wielder of the “red pen” as my blog suggests, I’ve taken it upon myself to determine that there are quite a lot of words that people misspell, and it’s my duty to protect the sanctity of the dictionary and help out my fellow man. The following list of words is, well, absurd.

1.      Acrossed or acrosst instead of across. Like… I have acrossed to bear (don’t be afraid to groan at my feeble attempts at humor).
2.      Conversate instead of converse. Like… While I transmitate some ideas, you pay attentionate. Then, while you respondate, I’ll ignorate everything you say.
3.      Could of, would of, or should of instead of could’ve or would’ve or should’ve. I don’t know’ve and cannot think’ve spelling of with ’ve, so the opposite should be true as well.
4.      Duck tape instead of duct tape. Common sense should serve here. Did the inventor create his or her product to adhere to a duck or a duct? The guy or gal was sitting in the office of invention and said, “I need to keep those quacking ducks quiet (or is it quit or quite?). I think I’ll invent an adhesive for their bills—one that can also be used to fix everything known to mankind including furnace ducts.”
5.      Excetera or eck cetera instead of et cetera. Like…I expecially like to use excetera at the end of a sentence when I don’t know anything else, but I want people to think I do.
6.      Heighth instead of height.  Like… The breadth and width and length are all one-eighth of an inch too short, but the heighth (or is it hieghth?) is exactly one h too long.
7.      Interpretate instead of interpret. Like… I’m able to regurgitate spelling words and facilitate spelling lessons, but some day when I lose my mind, I may try to incapacitate the wrong-doer till (’til or until PLEASE) they finally interpretate my irritation.
8.      And while I’m at it, orientate and disorientate instead of orient and disorient are just as irritate-ing.
9.      I could care less instead of I couldn’t care less. Like… “Dude, I could care less. I care a little, you know, but if I chose to, I could care less. I’ve chosen to care a little, however—leaving room for less caring in the future.”
10.  Irregardless instead of regardless. Wikipedia (the Bible of word origins) says that this word probably came from Indiana unless it originated in South Carolina first. I swear it says that. Ir means “not” and less means “without” and regard means “concern,” so irregardless means “not without concern” which is the opposite of the intended meaning—irregardless of how it is used.
11.  Jewlery instead of jewelry.  Any jewlers out there? I asked Google to find me words that ended with lery while I tried to find a witty comment. A word that popped up was “jewellery.” I kid you not.
12.  Libary instead of library. The irony of this is that a library is filled with media that is filled with words, and libary isn’t one of them.
13.  Mute instead of moot. Like… I just made a mute point—“mute” as in that spelling is so dumb I’m speechless.
14.  Nother instead of other or another. Like… Let me make a whole nother point that we should learn to drop our a’s.  A person should be able to remain nonymous, and if we choose to not eat, we can be norexic. Maybe we could noint someone as king.
15.  Probly or probally or prolly instead of probably, and supposebly or supposelly instead of supposedly. I may have sevral diffrent theories about these spellings, but I’m too lazy to write them. (Yep, I’m still trying to drive you nuts).
16.  Sherbert instead of sherbet. I’m going to admit I hate saying “sherbet.” It feels wrong, but at least I know what its supposed to be (and since I just spelled it’s wrong, I should simply mention how much I detest people spelling you’re and they’re wrong also).
17.  Spade instead of spay. Like… He’s a good dog. I’d hate to hit him with a shovel.
18.  Speciality instead of specialty.  Now, using words such as extraterritoriality or inconsequentiality or bipotentiality might make a person sound like they have some intelligenciality, but speciality happens to make them sound silly.
19.  Volumptuous instead of voluptuous. Admittedly, some voluptuous women may be a bit lumpy, but that really is no excuse for this spelling.
20.  Wheelbarrel instead of wheelbarrow. Though barrow isn’t a common word, a barrel is a cask or keg or vat or drum. A keg on wheels is, well, a portable party, but it’s no way to do yardwork.

So there it is. Twenty words (if you don’t count my intentional blunders) for the general population to begin spelling correctly. That’s what “The Read Pin” is for, isn’t it?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Power of Christmas

It has been a year of odd memories. At the end of August, I made one of those Planes, Trains, and Automobiles types of trips from Tennessee to Michigan. I wrote about it in “Murphy's Law and a Malicious GPS” and then a few weeks later suffered through knee surgery which I wrote about in “For the Love of Surgery.” Then my school year started and my father-in-law wandered off, starting six days of desperate searching and a resulting funeral. I wrote about my wife’s father in “Darwin J. Smith.” As things began to settle down, a deer committed suicide with my wife’s car and the day she got her vehicle back from repairs, she hit the front end of an idiot’s car with her stationary vehicle. My wife was going 0, the idiot about 60. Just a few days later, I got in the swing of things by denting in my daughter’s passenger-side door with the back end of my own moving vehicle. I mentioned the “incidents” in “Disaster Zone Ahead.” I thought my year of fun was over, and then we had an ice storm in Michigan and we lost our power—over Christmas!

With the passing of my father-in-law and my mother-in-law housed in a care facility with Alzheimer’s, my wife threw herself into Christmas preparations. I always had nice, family Christmases as a youngster, but the holiday with the Smith family was like Christmas times ten—maybe twenty. I’m fairly certain Jennifer was afraid that Christmas without her parents was going to be sad, so she was determined to honor the traditions with her best Christmas spirit. Well….

Christmas lights can’t be lit up without power. The Christmas tree can’t be lit up without electricity. Christmas carols can’t play on the stereo without energy. It’s difficult to wrap presents using an iPhone flashlight. We traditionally opened stocking stuffers on Christmas Eve and followed lots of traditions. The dip in the hot tub where we sang Christmas carols was out—the hot tub temperature was gradually receding from hot to frigid. The steaks broiled in the oven for our traditional meal became KFC. We took the generous financial gift that my parents had given us as a Christmas present, and instead of a new TV we were considering, we purchased a gas-powered generator so we could have enough heat in our house to keep the pipes from freezing. We didn’t have running water, so I bailed the chilly water from the hot tub to pour into the toilet tanks, and we brushed our teeth and washed our faces with bottled water. We ate our chicken and mashed potatoes, bundled up in my bedroom, watching our traditional Christmas movie. Our plan to have Jennifer’s family over to our house on Christmas Day was cancelled and plans were changed to go to her brother’s because their power had been restored. 

On Christmas morning, I awoke and made my trek to get more gas for the generator. We redirected extension cords so we could play our traditional Christmas music. After unwrapping gifts, we forsook the traditional breakfast cinnamon rolls because there was no oven, and we gathered our things to go shower at my brother’s house. At my brother-in-law’s house, we ate and prepared to open gifts, and just as we gathered for our first family Christmas without Jennifer’s parents, their power went out again. We unwrapped presents by candlelight and phone flashlights. Christmas wasn’t the same. It wasn’t convenient. It wasn’t traditional. It wasn’t what it usually was. But it was amazing.

Yes, gifts are awesome, and good food is appreciated. The comforts of home and the traditions of Christmas—too numerous to elaborate upon—are part of what makes Christmas special. But what makes Christmas truly special is the birth of Jesus. On Christmas Eve, because we didn’t have opportunity to celebrate how we usually do, we went to church. We sang Christmas carols and listened to our pastor talk about Jesus’s birth—the Christ of Christmas. We read the Christmas stories from the Bible together on Christmas morning. We thanked God for our meals. We gathered with family in the dark and were able to enjoy the experience without dwelling on the death of my father-in-law.

Christmas wasn’t the same. It was lacking in so many ways, but it allowed my family to focus on the right things. It allowed us to not be so caught up in the traditions that would have likely been a bit sad this year, and focus on our family and on the many blessings we often overlook—like heat and water and light. It helped us to ignore the hustle and bustle and not focus on the amenities of Christmas but rather on the reason for the special day. It allowed us to not be sad but rather to be grateful. I’ve had a lot of experiences this year that I’ll always remember, but the Christmas without power might have been the most memorable of all.