Practice Makes Perfect

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by Fay Lamb

My son was once an accomplished violinist, but when he first started to play, his tutor, a first string with the local symphony orchestra, struggled with keeping him on task. One day my son Corey walked into practice. “Igor, I don’t want to play violin. I want to learn to fiddle.”

Igor stood back in his old clog shoes, and he wiped a hand through his hair, which was always oily, and a big smile crossed his face. He’d just caught on to a way to motivate my son. “Corey, you have to learn from the masters. You have to know the scales. You have to play these difficult pieces that I’m teaching you. Then when you have mastered the violin, you will be able to play it like a fiddle.”

That’s how it is with rules. I run across so many writers who don’t know where to put a comma. They play the comma by ear. If it sounds like a pause then that’s the place for the comma. Problem is, sometimes that pause is at the end of a complete sentence. When do you use an em dash or an ellipse? Why aren’t we supposed to start a sentence with a conjunction? The semicolon-don’t get me started on the semicolon. Ninety percent of writers use it incorrectly. Exclamation points! For goodness sakes, are your characters screaming at everyone? Why is a sentence that starts with an “ing” word inappropriate, and what makes an “ly” telling? Do you realize that not every “ing” constructed sentence or every “ly” word is bad?

In order to have technique, I contend that you need to know the rules. And when you break the rules, you don’t break them consistently. As Noah Lukeman so aptly teaches in his book, A Dash of Style, you use them to your advantage. Too much of anything gets rather tiring, but put in an appropriate semicolon (and yes they are allowed in fiction-maybe not in dialogue for some publishers) or an em dash or ellipses for emphasis, and even misplacing a comma for a dramatic pause-these things adds zing to your writing.

You can’t write a masterpiece until you know how it is formed. Practice makes perfect in music and in writing. When you’ve practiced your art, and you understand the reason for the rules, and most importantly, the various misconceptions of those rules, your words will ring like music. Your writing will be distinguishable from the masses playing by uneducated ear, those who never took the time to understand the cadence of grammar and punctuation.

And this is where a writer’s style and voice begin.

Fay Lamb works as an acquisition/copyeditor for Pelican Book Group (White Rose Publishing and Harbourlight Books), offers her services as a freelance editor, and is an author of Christian romance and romantic suspense. Because of Me, her debut romantic suspense novel was released in February by Treble Heart Books/Mountainview Publishing.

Fay co-moderates the large Scribes Critique Group and manages the smaller Scribes critique groups. For her efforts, she was the recipient of the ACFW Members Service Award in 2010. In 2012, she was also elected to serve as secretary on ACFW’s Operating Board.

Fay and her husband, Marc, reside in Titusville, Florida, where multi-generations of their families have lived. The legacy continues with their two married sons and five grandchildren.

Comments 0

  1. I loved that book! Only one thing that I question: the author of the book tells us to put four periods if the words are cut at the end of the sentences, but most of writers just leave three. Which is it?

    I took notes from that book, and I need to review what I have learned. It’s a really great book.

  2. My passion is grammar (I know, weird), so in April I started a blog featuring 5-minute lessons on grammar and writing tips. Alas, most of the people who started out with it ended up dropping it. Maybe my blog simply isn’t that good (sniffle), or maybe writers just don’t consider grammar part of an author’s skill-set.

    I hope you message doesn’t fall on deaf ears.


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