Thursday, March 3, 2011
Cale McCaskey's the name. Irony, satire, metaphor, oxymoron, simile, and sarcasm are the game. But not hyperbole. For heavens sake, never hyperbole!
I like to write. It's like those people who talk just to hear the sound of their own voice, except writers hear a lot of voices, often a mad cacophonous symphony of them. It's how Shakespeare found work. Otherwise he would have been just another village idiot babbling incoherently at the city square. But we have a mayor for that in my village, and we pay him so well he'll never retire, so a writer I must be. Now, I have this here blog to post my fictional work at, but I don't yet have anything to post, so for my opening contribution I will do you the honor of sharing the great wisdom which all my twelve years in public education taught me about proper writing. (It should take about a page and a half). So, here are a few rules that every good village idiot, that is, writer, should follow or be forever damned to an eternity of servitude to that mockery of English known as The Chicago Manual Of Style.
The first thing to remember is that almost nobody knows how to place commas and semicolons correctly anymore. Here are the three most basic things to remember. When separating two sentence fragments with a conjunction present, no comma is necessary e.g.:
Tom and Sally like to fish and go sailing.
If both sentence fragments can be used to make two complete sentences on each side of a conjunction, a comma is placed before the conjunction e.g.:
Tom and Sally like to fish, and they often cast for trout.
If both sentence fragments can be used to make two complete sentences but no conjunction is present, then use a semicolon e.g..:
Tom and Sally like to fish; they often cast for trout.
The second thing to remember is that an ellipsis is always used to show an omission of words. Please ignore the new rules that modern dictionaries are tying to force upon the masses of little children in the public de-education system where an ellipsis can be used for just about anything this side of a curse word from Samuel Morse. An ellipsis in the middle of a sentence is generally used in quotations where parts of two different sentences are strung together to make a point e.g.:
William Wordsworth had a poem that went:
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life's star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
If I just want to quote parts of it I might do it thusly:
William Wordsworth said, "Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting... And cometh from afar."
Notice that a three dot ellipsis was used to show the omission of words in the middle of the sentence.
We can use a four dot ellipsis at the end to show that a stanza from Wordsworth went on further thusly:
William Wordsworth said, "Our birth is but a sleep...."
Those are the only two ways to use an ellipsis properly. Either you're omitting something in mid sentence with three dots, or you're omitting something at the end with four.
An ellipsis is not used to show a pause in speech. That's what commas are for, and there are other ways of doing this such as with a dash. The following is poor form:
"Tom, I just had to... well, I had to tell you the truth about Billy, " she said.
This is better:
"Tom, I just had to, well, I had to tell you the truth about Billy," she said.
This may be better yet:
"Tom, I just had to," she paused to collect her thoughts, "well, I had to tell you the truth about Billy," she said.
Okay, to be honest, I've used an ellipsis to show a pause in speech before, and I probably will again but not often.
We will not discuss here the incredible element of women telling truths. Arthur Schopenhauer has already said too much, and ruined supper for all of us. (Did the damned fool not know that women could read!)?
Now ladies and gentlehams, you know more about proper writing than every author on any best seller list for the past 50 years, which is a bit like saying Beef Wellington is better than Spam, a hollow victory to be sure, but just remember you have the wit and wisdom of Cale McCaskey to thank for it.