Did you know that of the 1,146 pages comprising the 17th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style, 325 pages are dedicated to the proper usage of commas?
Okay, I pulled that fact out of thin air. But I bet many of you (myself included) would not be surprised if this was true. Out of all the elements of composition and grammar, the application of commas is simultaneously the most contested and the least important aspect of writing.
One of my most embarrassing editing experiences involves commas, a well-respected and uniquely talented writer of cosmic horror, and my personal obstinance. Way, way back in the early days of Apex Magazine, I approached this writer for a reprint. (She’ll remain anonymous because I don’t want anyone sending her this essay and reminding her of my mistakes.) Having her name in the zine would be a Big Deal. A stamp of quality and a statement of the type of content we wanted.
The query went well. She was gracious and obliged me with a fantastic story to reprint. I immediately accepted it and returned it to her with a couple of minor punctuation edits.
My recovery from a triple mandibular resection last February continues. The debridement surgery in September created a major quality of life improvement. Pieces of the bone that didn’t survive the transplant in February were removed, allowing my gum tissue to finally heal. My food options multiplied greatly. I’ve even gained a few pounds back from the 30 I lost.
The next step is a bone and marrow transplant from the pelvic area of my hip bone to the area of my replaced jaw that was excised in September. They grind up the bone and marrow from my hip and mix with a substance call bone morphogenetic protein. My surgeon described it as a kind of fertilizer for bone regrowth. This stuff is surgically placed in the debridement area in a mesh and allowed to heal and grow for several months.
I’ve recently watched two television adaptations that created a pair of polarizing responses. On the positive side we have HBO’s Watchmen. On the negative side is Netflix’s The Witcher. Both series have a respected genre pedigree: one being among the great graphic novels of our time; the other is a series with a cult following and being the source material for one of the best video games ever created (The Witcher 3).
So what caused my split decision?
There’s a certain flaw in writing that I call “shit happens just because.” I’m sure my fancy nomenclature isn’t the official term. But I think you know what I mean. Cartoons use it all the time because, well, they’re cartoons (I’m looking at you Rick & Morty!) Sitcoms, as well. But when you’re dealing with dramatic work, “shit happens just because” isn’t as easy to swallow and can ruin the viewing/reading experience.
Both the Watchmen and The Witcher television series are thick with lore. Both shows are a challenge to understand if you’re not familiar with the source material. I can understand why a viewer would turn to their spouse and ask “What the fuck is up with all the clocks and tick-tocking?” when watching the first couple of episodes of Watchmen. There are Rorschach masks, Lori Blake, Ozymandias being weird, and so on.
The Witcher, likewise, has a whole series of material concepts to throw at you. There’s the Law of Surprise, the mythos of Geralt, Yennefer and her transformation, a hedgehog man trying to wed a princess.
When I was writing my independent military fantasy novel Battle for the Wastelands, one of the major people involved was none other than Apex Publications founder Jason Sizemore. Not only did he do a developmental edit back in 2016, but he proofread the manuscript, formatted it into an eBook and print book, and put me in contact with cover designer Mikio Murikami. He said that the final cover equaled anything from one of the Big Five publishers.
One of the easiest ways to make your manuscript stronger is to practice assertive writing. Practicing Word economy can improve your writing, make your editors happy, and create narrative drive.
What do I mean when I say to practice assertive writing? Turn on your television. Watch your favorite show. Maybe it’s Seinfeld. The episode is “The Contest” and Kramer charges into Jerry’s apartment, slaps $100 on the counter, and declares “I’m out.”
It’s effective because the beats happen quickly. Kramer doesn’t come in and say “I watched Cinemax and now I’m a contest loser.” Thanks to proper scene-setting and plotting, the viewer knows with two simple words what’s up without the need for expanded exposition. The word economy and quick nature via the assertive writing in that scene allows for a humorous moment and grants the script the time to add even more jokes.
If there’s ever a gifting trap, it’s the one that happens when you decide to buy a book for someone you know. I can remember several instances over the years where I could sense that the person receiving my gifted book was unimpressed for various reasons.
But why would someone be nonplussed by a gift? Because books are personal. Your choice in a gifted book reflects what you see in somebody. Or so they often think. This is particularly true when you’re buying for the occasional or non-reader.
But wow…when you find the perfect book for someone and that someone LOVES it, there is no GREATER feeling of satisfaction. It’s an instant bonding moment. That person will think “You get me” and reward you with praise and hugs.
Have we reached peak TV? Hard to say. So many people suffer from recency bias and are quick to declare what they just watched as the Best Thing Ever. I remember thinking in the 1990s that The X-Files could never be topped. Then in the 2000s, it was The Sopranos. These days, I still love both series, but would not call them the best of their respective decades.
These kinds of lists are always subjective and restrictive in terms of stuff I’ve actually seen. Why create such a list? Because I am offering a service to you, the reader, should you have a need to watch something of quality.
The films of Gasper Noé typically leave me cold. I watch them, I recognize that a director of great skill has created the movie, but the content leaves me unmoved.
I’m by no means a Noé connoisseur. He’s produced a lot of work, but I have seen four of his films now: Irrévisible, Enter the Void, Love, and Climax. The first two films have powerful moments and an impressive visual style, but as a whole, they struck me as noble film experiments, nothing more. Love…no thanks.
Then we get to Climax. All the experimental, visual promise that Noé displayed in the other three films comes together to form a memorable, mind-blowing visual and psychological treat.
In one thousand words, I’m gonna tell you why you love writing.
I had no idea I’d ever get divorced. I loved my wife. We’d not
only been lovers during that relationship from day one onward, we’d been
friends. We were the kind of couple who’d spontaneously reach out to hold hands
for no reason. We’d shower together not for sexy bits but for levels of
intimacy that said come be renewed, you are safe and loved here. We’d have carpet
picnics. We’d have exercise sessions that were not PG-13. (Bless you, Tae Bo.)
But we divorced several years ago. I love my ex-wife. I
really do. If she’d been a wicked, awful person we’d never have gotten married.
I mean, that’s generally how things go, right, you don’t look for the absolute
worst and say “That right there!” We drifted apart as life’s currents direct at
times. The gulf had gotten so wide that by the time either of us truly
acknowledged it with eyes open we couldn’t see each other.