How To Use Language Properly


According to The Rules and common practice language has only one right way to be used. But is that true? Isn’t it proved by time and experience language is fluid, subject to change to suit the occasion it is used?

Listen to what Stephen Fry has to say on the subject. I think you might agree, even if you are an author and like me want to adhere to the rules and regulations of the current language formalities.

So,what do we do? How do we use this beautiful English Language properly? First of all we need to determinate which spelling we care to use. American or British? Both English but there’s not only a whole ocean dividing the two, there’s a kind of language barrier too.

Take for example the word ‘wilful’. According to my American friends this will be a wrong use of language and  the word should be spelled as following, ‘willful’. There are many more of such examples, which I’m not going to give here.

What I will say on the matter is, be aware of the choice you make. Either use US spelling or UK, don’t mix the two. Of course there will be American readers who will trip over your British spelling and might even mention in a review you don’t know how to spell. But as authors we should know that can happen and move on. Maybe write your next novel according to US spelling rules to show you do know how to spell, or mention in the front matter of your book you write according to British spelling rules because you are a Brit. Problem solved. Of course, this works the other way around too.

The next thing you should take into consideration is what you write. The rules for fiction differ from those for poetry, as those for non-fiction differ from a dissertation, and a blog post differs from a letter to your mom. Unless of course you use your blog to keep your mom in the loop on your life. 🙂 But that is a whole different kind of blog than the common writers blog. What I mean is what Stephen Fry so eloquently put in the video, our language should reflect the occasion, like our behaviour and clothes do. That is the basic rule.

But … Yes, I have a but. Shouldn’t there be room for individuality? What about artistic freedom?

Ha! Yes, we are artists and have a certain idea on how our work should be put into words, but those words have to make sense to the reader. Throw away all the rules and do as you please and you will have no readers for the simple reason your readers will not know what you mean.

It is a fine line we must walk. Write in our own voice. Have the characters speak the way we think they should speak and yet keep it within ‘normal’ range. Keep it eligible to the general public.

If I were to write this:

“I crave to smoke my coffee and dance the words before slipping into that warm canal.”

Would you know I mean the character wants to roast his coffee while he is creating a choreography and thinks on making love to his girlfriend after he is done? Misunderstanding and confusion is what happens if we throw away all conventions and just do as we please.

It doesn’t only applies to the words themselves. Grammar, punctuation, plot, dialogue, it all is language and it all has to adhere to at least the basic rules, no matter which style guide you favour.

So how do we use language properly? By choosing a set of rules from a certain style guide and  stick to them. Be consistent in your choice of spelling and take heed of your audience.

I know it’s not an answer to fit the box, but I guess there is no answer, because let’s face it. In a couple of hundred years our language will have evolved again and the rules as they are today will no longer apply. Like those from Shakespeare’s time no longer apply to the language of today. New words emerge and old ones are forgotten.

So write, write well and honour the language as best you can. When you’ve reached the limit of your ability to know the rules, use that editor to get the last wrongs ‘write’.

How To Create Great Cover Art

‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ is the saying, but let’s be honest, it is what we all do. At least if I’m honest, it is a big part of the decision to pick up a book or not, especially a tree book (physical book) but even an e-book could be dismissed if the cover looks like something a six year old would have come up with. Not bad if it’s a book aimed for that age group, but it’s not something you want if you are looking for the mature reader.


Cover Cranford Bad      Cover Cranford

Take the two covers above. To the right is the one by Penguin Classics and shows basically what the book is about with the right feel to it. Left is … Well, let’s say it’s a bit of a crowded picture and I don’t see what it has to do with the story behind the cover.

There’s a lot of things that can make or break your work but the very first thing, after you’ve written that masterpiece, you need to create a great cover for your book, and for that you must have a great picture. One that covers what the book is about and not just one you like.

There are many places to find good photos to use as cover art for your book. I always like to browse Flickr to find pictures to match the stories I write or create a cover for, and if you do an advanced search for pictures with a Creative commons license, chances are you can use the image for free. However, even if it’s under creative commons, you still have to make sure it’s available for commercial use and if you are allowed to alter it. Also remember that it’s always nice, and good manners to let the owner of the picture know you are going to use his–or her–picture and to what purpose. Most of the times the photographer will be pleased to hear their work will be published and might even help you with promotion once you publish.

I promised the owner of that beautiful Red Ridinghood photo–which I am using as the basis for my cover–a copy of the book and of course being mentioned as the photographer. It has resulted in a great working relation with Lee Turnbull and two great covers.
cover Red Gone Bad         a-menu-of-death-final-full-KLM
If you have money to spend and want a picture by a renowned photographer rather than support an upcoming great artist, you can always look for commercial content, sometimes those aren’t that expensive either. On sites like Istockphoto you can find pictures, not even that expensive. I’ve seen very nice ones for only $13 and high resolution, which you need if you want to be able to use it for a print too.There are many more sites with loads and loads of content to chose from, but these are the ones I prefer to browse.And then there’s ImageShack not a site to find pictures to use as cover, but certainly useful to upload your own pictures for safe keeping and sharing with others. They allow you to embed, or link to pictures on their site.
Now that you’ve found the perfect picture and the photographer has agreed for you to use and alter the photo for that cover the real work begins. Creating a cover is not as easy as you might think it is. Which font is the right one to use for the by line, the title, where to place those, do you need to add or remove anything from the picture?
The cover for Red Gone Bad for example started with the below picture. Great work of art, but too busy to use as a cover and however beautiful that lens flare is, it has no place on a book cover. So get rid of the ‘tossed salad’, the flare and to be able to place the title and by line in the right place the image was flipped.
Original RGB
The artist, Lee Turnbull, was very happy with the end result and up till this day we have a great contact, even developed a kind of friendship, and a working relation that serves us both, because I will depend on his great eye to shoot the cover for The Power Of Three too.
So, with the right picture you’re not there yet. You need to either learn how to use Photoshop, of Gimp which I prefer for the simple reason it is free software, easy to use and does everything Photoshop does too. There’s an abundance of tutorials on Gimp all over the interwebz, but I quite liked the Gimptalk forum.
How do you get your covers? Create them yourself? Buy them and get disappointed every now and then, or do you have friends helping you, like I have when I’m stuck and can’t see where to take the cover I’m working on.

How-To Add A Scrollbox To A WordPress Blog

Do you find it hard to commit to reading a blogpost when you see that little scroll thingy in the side telling you that it’s a long, long post? And would you love to have a way to not have that on your blog, but hide long excerpts, or even whole chapters  in a scroll box for readers to choose whether or not they want to read the extra content?

Here’s the solution, a simple piece of coding you put in the HTML window of your blog and the extra text that might scare off readers is hidden in a separate scroll box instead of in the blog post.

Oooookay. 🙂 Let me break that down to you into simple steps. (For the one-brain-celled Ape)

When you normally prepare a blog post you will do that in the visual tab (upper right hand of your editing window) to use the HTML code below you will have to switch to the Text window (click on the word ‘Text’ next to ‘Visual’)

Once you’ve done that you will notice that above the window where you type a row of small buttons have appeared. Disregard them, you can type text in this window just as you would in the Visual window, but you can also use HTML code like the one you need to create a scroll box. Yes, that is the code below. 🙂

As you can see I’ve made the height of my box a mere 200pixels, but you can adjust that number to a higher, or lower number. Just try it out and see what works best for your blog, or site. Of course you can also adjust the border by fiddling with the numbers behind the word border. If I were you I wouldn’t mess with the padding because 8 pixels is just the right padding in my opinion.

And there you have it. A scroll box for you to use on your blog and fill with whatever lengthy content you want to post but don’t want to turn your blog post into a super long one.

<div style=”border:solid 1px #999;height:200px;white-space:pre-wrap;overflow:auto;padding:8px;”>

If there’s anything not clear or you need to know more, leave a comment and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

How To Use The Comma – Part Two

Let’s regard a set of clauses, or phrases and use of commas.

The dependent restrictive clause.  Eh? The what? The clause that follows the main clause and cannot be omitted without changing the meaning of said main clause should not be separated from the main clause by a comma. A whole lot of words to basically say if you leave it off you get a sentence which means something completely different.

An example might help you understand. 🙂

Lucy will agree to promote your book if you accept her way of doing so.

If you leave off “if you accept her way of doing so.” the above sentence has a whole different meaning. There is no restriction whether or not Lucy will promote, while in fact there is. The same goes for the below example. Try it, I know you want to. 🙂

The author requesting a promotion was baffled at how easy he could get her to promote his work.

I’m sure you got it, right? Let’s look at the nonrestrictive dependent clause now. It’s the clause that can be omitted without changing the meaning of the main clause should be set off by a comma.

No, i’m quite serious. Look at the below example and think about it.

The author opted for a one-day promotion, although he would have wanted Lucy to review his book.

But if the both, restrictive and nonrestrictive, precede the main clause they should be set off by a comma.

If you accept her way of promoting, Lucy will agree to advertise your book. Although the author wanted Lucy to review his book, he opted for a one-day promotion.

And then there’s the adverbial phrase at the beginning of a sentence. That one is usually set off by a comma, but not if it is a short introductory one.

Don’t panic!

After reading Lucy’s review, the author wished he’d not insisted but opted for the promotion.

After breakfast he read Lucy’s review.

See? Not that difficult at all, or is it?

If the introductory adverbial phrase immediately precedes the verb it modifies the two should not be separated by a comma.

On the sofa sat an author with Lucy’s review on his lap.

But if that adverbial phrase, or clause is in between the subject and the verb it is usually set off by a comma.

The author, after reading Lucy’s review, sat on the sofa at a loss for words.

But I’m sure you’re not, or are you?

But if you don’t feel that way, do let me know and keep your eye out for more to come on the subject of the dreaded comma. Do let me know if you have questions and I’ll be more than happy to answer them, if I can. 🙂

How To Become The Ruler of Commas

Or, how to use the comma right.

This very small piece of punctuation is one that is more often than not used too often, or not enough. To be honest I struggle with it too and need to reach for The Chicago Manual of Style when in doubt.

This style guide tells us that a comma is nothing more than an indication of even the smallest interruption of thought or sentence structure.

And that is what often goes wrong, we sort of know the how, why, and when to use the comma, but our individual idea of what ‘the smallest interruption’ is.

That’s why there are a few rules, but mainly it is a matter of good judgement with keeping in mind that a sentence has to remain easy to read.

Doing it right makes me smile, how about you?

Now, let’s look at a ‘difficult’ rule on comma use.

The compound sentence.

Generally, as a rule of thumb remember when two clauses are joined by a conjunction use a comma before the conjunction. But …. Yes, of course there is an exemption, when the clauses are short and closely related, don’t use a comma.

She closed the door to keep the animals out, but the dog had already sneaked in and left a present on the sofa.

The first two clauses need to be separated by the comma in front of the conjunction (but), while the middle and last clauses are both short and closely related and therefor do not need to be separated by a comma.

Which refers to the rule that when a sentence has a compound predicate (two or more verbs–Sneaked in and left–with the same subject–the dog) the comma should not be used between the parts of the compound predicate.

If the sentence consists of short, independent clauses and the last two are joined by a conjunction, commas should be placed between the clauses and before the conjunction.

He told her to close the door, she stood to shut the animals out, but the dog sneaked in with a dead bird in its mouth.

To make it even more difficult, if the clauses are very long or are subdivided by a comma, a semicolon may be used between them even if they are joined by a conjunction.

Lucy, who had already decided to shut the animals out, stood to shut the door when her partner asked her to; but at that moment the dog sneaked in and dropped a dead bird on the sofa.

Now, let’s give our brain a little rest and look at an easier topic.

The Oxford comma. 

The what? 🙂 The comma before the conjunction with which you end a listing.

I have baked cookies, pies, tarts, and crumbles.


The man is tall, dark, and handsome.

Pretty clear cut, you either use the Oxford comma or you don’t. This is one of the uses of the comma that is not set in stone, but if you use it once in your manuscript, use it throughout. As with all things style, be consistent.

That’s it for now, do come back for more next week, because there’s much more to say about this nifty, little piece of punctuation.