Test Your Use of Hyphens in Your Stories

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I decided to stop winging my use of hyphens and arm myself with some rules. 

A Hyphen-Usage Test

Which four of these examples are incorrect? At the end of the test, see the analysis of why each example is correct or incorrect.

  1. ceiling-tall Christmas tree
  2. the small-delicate dancer
  3. a protein-eating diet
  4. the front-porch rocker
  5. he was soft-hearted about disciplining
  6. a lovingly-planted garden
  7. a well-timed event
  8. a twenty-four-hour job
  9. held for two- and three-hour sessions
  10. black and white cruiser

Analysis

First, my heading is correct—A Hyphen-Usage Test. Capitalize the first word and all hyphenated words in a title except articles (the), prepositions (with), and conjunctions (and). The only time a hyphenated word is not capitalized in a title is when the first word is a prefix that can’t stand alone (A Smile Is an Anti-aging Device). 

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  1. Correct. This noun and adjective unite to modify a noun. The noun following united words is key.
  2. Incorrect. Small and delicate don’t unite to describe the dancer; they each stand alone. So, “the small, delicate dancer” is correct.
  3. Correct. This noun and gerund unite to modify a noun (diet). Eating standing alone would suggest a fun diet!
  4. Correct. It’s not a front rocker. Front and porch unite to modify the rocker (noun). 
  5. Incorrect. Here, soft-hearted doesn’t unite to modify a noun. The correct sentence is “He was soft hearted about disciplining.”
  6. Incorrect. Yes, this adverb and verb unite to modify garden, but two words with a leading adverb ending in -ly aren’t joined with a hyphen. Correct is “a lovingly planted garden.” An -ly adverb is what causes the different rule. However, if lovingly is in the middle of a multiple-word descriptor, such as “the far-from-lovingly-planted garden,” lovingly gets a hyphen.
  7. Correct. Well is not an adverb ending in -ly, and it unites with timed to modify a noun (event). But the adverb well in “the meeting was well timeddoesn’t use a hyphen. Here, “well timed” is not followed by a noun.
  8. Correct. This multiple-word modifier unites to describe a noun.
  9. Correct. Both two-hour and three-hour are adjective phrases modifying a noun and are written as in the example.
  10. Incorrect. When a color combination precedes a noun, it’s hyphenated. It’s a “black-and-white cruiser,” but “the cruiser was black and white.” Also, it’s a “blue-green pond.”

Sometimes hyphens are used for clarity. Consider: “We passed five mile markers.” This talks about the number of mile markers. If the markers were placed every five miles and we passed these markers, we’d write, “We passed five-mile markers.”

Which hyphenating rule is a problem in your writing?


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Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. —Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  —Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! —Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author.

Does Your Scene’s Pace Match Its Mood?

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Possible Scene Moods

  • sorrowful
  • lazy (might come as a break after a particularly harsh scene)
  • fearful
  • humorous (could be part of a light genre or provide a rest after a scary scene)
  • suspenseful

For pace, focus on:

  • actions
  • sentence length (whether fast- or slow-paced, mix in some short and long sentences)
  • words

Let’s look at two examples.

Examples

A man joins a dinner party.

Sorrowful

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Edmund trailed other hushed mourners into Chad’s dining room. At one end of the table, he dragged a heavy chair out, leaving shallow ruts in the carpet. He sank to the seat, and his head drooped forward until his chin rested on his chest. How long would river rocks weigh down his heart? He stared at the black napkin rolled and trapped in a black plastic ring next to his china plate. Someone at the far end of the table chuckled. Edmund floated his gaze upward to see what kind of person was amused in the dismalness of Margo’s death. 

Analysis: The pace is slow.

Actions are slow, drawn out, or heavy: trailed, dragged, sank, drooped, rested, weight, stared, trapped, floated 

Sentence lengths are nine words or longer—100%. Fifteen prepositional phrases.

Words speak of quietness and sadness: hushed, mourners, heavy, ruts, down, black, dismalness, death. Even chuckled is a quiet laugh, and been amused is low-key compared to experienced laughter.

Suspenseful

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Edmund led suspects into Chad’s dining room. Midtable, he hauled back a chair and sat. One by one, he scrutinized six anxious guests. Blondie twitched. Mr. Mustache shook. All looked away. Edmond snorted, stabbed his bloody beef medallion, and crammed it into his mouth. He chewed, swallowed, and glugged his red wine. Someone heaved a derogatory sigh. Edmund shot to his feet and strode to the culprit. Captain Round Glasses blanched. Edmund grabbed his jacket and hoisted him off his chair. “You’ll sizzle first on my grill for Margo’s death.”

Analysis: The pace moves the story forward.

Actions are fast, decisive, or harsh: led, hauled, twitched, shook, snorted, stabbed, crammed, chewed, swallowed, glugged, shot, strode, grabbed, hoisted. 

Sentence lengths are short—only four are nine words or longer—36%. Only five prepositional phrases.

Words pound out accusation, fear, obnoxiousness, and roughness: suspects, scrutinized, anxious, bloody, derogatory, culprit, blanched, sizzle, grill, death. 

What paragraph would you write for a lazy or humorous passage?


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Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. —Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  —Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! —Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author.


Power Up Your Paragraphs – It’s Fun

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The Exercise

Pick a paragraph from your first draft or even from a book. Circle the

  • nouns,
  • verbs,
  • adjective, and
  • adverbs.

Circle them. Then use your imagination, thesaurus, or Flip Dictionary by Barbara Ann Kipfer. Ph.D. and see if you can replace each circled word with a word that gives a more powerful image. 

Caution: We’re not trying to make the object, action, or description more intense than what is really happening in the paragraph, i.e. we’re not going for melodrama. 

Let’s look at three examples that show a bland, powerful, and melodramatic paragraph. For your first round, try not to rewrite the paragraph, which might be the best solution. For now, we’re trying to think of more powerful, image-producing words. Of course, you’ll find that one word is more powerful than two or a phrase, so go ahead and replace those with the one word.

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Bland

The oncoming train’s horn tooted. A couple of children sitting on the train deck picked up their toys, put them in small bags, and hurried after the moving train. An old man worked hard to stand from his chair and followed them. Many other happy people ran around the old man, brushing against him. When the train stopped, people hollered as military men came off the train.

Powerful

The approaching locomotive’s whistle blasted. Two boys kneeling on the station platform gathered their marbles, stuffed their aggies and shooters into string-tied pokes, and raced toward the chugging train. A time-worn senior struggled to rise from the station bench and trailed the boys. A joyous throng streamed past the octogenarian, jostling against the man. When the engine stopped, the crowd cheered as soldiers spilled from the train. 

Melodramatic

The barreling mechanical snake’s siren screamed. Two imps sprawled on the cement slab grabbed their dice, crammed them into metal-studded pockets, and hurdled toward the train. An ancient geezer cracked his back as he removed his haunches from the metal seat and pursued the scallywags. Other ecstatic people galloped past the senile codger, knocking him flat. When the coach stopped, the mob shrieked as combatants stormed off the train. 

Although the melodramatic version uses power words. It fails to retain the spirit of the original, although bland, paragraph. 

What words would you have used for the power version?


Buy Link

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is TYFMI30D-Print-5.75x8.89.jpeg

Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. —Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  —Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! —Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author.