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Topics - Becca Mills

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I don't know if this will be helpful for anyone, but I just wrote up a mini-lesson on when to use commas between adjectives that precede a noun. Figured it couldn't hurt to share it here, as it's a topic I find myself puzzling over sometimes during editing.


Sometimes people are taught that whenever you precede a noun with more than one adjective, you put commas between them. That's actually not true. You only put commas between such adjectives if you could replace the comma with "and" without it sounding weird. So ...

I saw a slouching, shifty-eyed American man enter the bar.

The comma between "slouching" and "shifty-eyed" is correct because you could say ...

I saw a slouching and shifty-eyed American man enter the bar.

...without sounding odd. But if you also added a comma before "American," that wouldn't be correct, even though "American" is just another adjective in the list:

I saw a slouching, shifty-eyed and American man enter the bar.

Sounds weird, right? So no comma there.

The other test is whether you can swap the adjectives' order:

I saw a slouching, shifty-eyed American man enter the bar.

I saw a shifty-eyed, slouching American man enter the bar.

Both sound okay, right? So the comma between "slouching" and "shifty-eyed" is correct.

Nerd out: The official way of describing this situation is that only adjectives that are coordinate have commas between them when they precede a noun. Coordinate basically means the adjectives are completely equal in function, and thus their order can be swapped. You can see how "shifty-eyed" and "slouching" are similar in function (they both describe appearance) whereas "American" is getting into a different category (nationality). Often adjectives that fit into unlike categories become subject to English's adjective-ordering conventions. Their order thus can't be changed, and they're not coordinate. These adjectives are called cumulative. So, the rule is that you do put commas between coordinate adjectives, and you don't put commas between cumulative adjectives. :)

Writers' Cafe / URLs redirecting to
« on: October 05, 2020, 12:51:00 am »
At the moment, all URLs in posts on KBoards are redirecting to the above-mentioned site, with a couple other quick stops on the way. Or they are for me, at any rate. I've written to VerticalScope about the problem. Hopefully they'll fix it quickly.

Writers' Cafe / MOVED: Did you EVER?
« on: September 25, 2020, 11:58:54 pm »

Writers' Cafe / Forum Decorum: Please read this
« on: August 16, 2020, 03:23:18 pm »
In recent weeks, I've noticed some lapses in KBoards' forum culture: name-calling, accusations of trolling, unsolicited critiques, etc.

Certain elements of our forum culture have always been conveyed ... well, culturally -- by osmosis and peer-education, rather than through written rules. With rates of posting now lower than they once were, I think those norms and practices are not being passed on so consistently to newer members. So I've edited Harvey Chute's 2008 "Forum Decorum" post to include as many of our heretofore unwritten rules as came to mind. I've also flagged the "Forum Decorum" more clearly in the title of the Writers' Cafe pinned FAQ, Rules, and Tips thread. Hopefully these changes will help new members come up to speed more quickly.

Please take a look at the following quotation from the revised "Forum Decorum" post. Notable additions appear in blue. Repeating for clarity: none of the newly added material is of my invention; these are the cultural norms that have been enforced here since well before I became a moderator. Drop me a line if you have any questions:

We welcome everyone to this forum, from newbies to tech warriors. No complicated rules here.

General Rules

Tone and culture of KBoards. KBoards is our home. To make it an overall enjoyable place to be, we have to set expectations about the behavior of everyone who enters our home.

The tone of conversation in our forum is important to us. If you are a new member, browse around the boards for a while to get a feel for our culture. Look at the flow of our conversations to get a sense for what we consider to be acceptable in posts and topics.

If you're new and immediately start posting with provoking or inciting comments, don't be surprised if you're banned. In the past, we've spent time trying to coach new members who get started on the wrong foot here. It rarely works, and we've now grown to the point where it's not possible for us to do that. So, seriously: figure this part out on your own if you wish to join this forum.

If the above guidelines irk you, and you're ready to get on your soapbox about free speech on the web... this is probably not the place for you.

If, on the other hand, you enjoy respectful and engaging dialogue, and have a sense of courtesy to others... welcome! Enjoy! 

Specific Rules

- No bad words please. (Don't test our filters.)

- No flaming, no insults, no name-calling. Your post will be deleted.

- No belligerence. If, in the opinion of our moderators, you display aggressive, relentless, or belligerent behavior, you are subject to being banned. If you want to have a future here, be kind.

- Sorry, no discussion of politics or religion. We've found that these discussions, about beliefs that are held deeply, tend to go off the rails very quickly, so our culture here is to not have those discussions. We may make exceptions for limited and manageable areas of overlap between politics and publishing; if permitted, such discussions must remain tightly focused.

- No trolling, and no accusations of trolling. Not permitting public accusations of trolling, either direct or oblique, is fundamental to our forum culture. We ask members always to respond as though others are posting in good faith. If you suspect someone may be posting with the goal of provoking conflict, by all means report the problematic posts to the moderators, using the link to the bottom-right of each post. But never accuse publicly in the thread: rather than helping, it degrades discourse and escalates conflict.

- In general, we do not allow one person to operate multiple accounts. We have ways of identifying these, even when attempts are made to disguise those accounts through IP-cloaking tools. (Note: if you're using an IP-cloaker or IP-blocker, you're probably high on our watch list.)

- No importing conflicts from other sites (this is known as the "WHOA" rule: What Happens on Amazon [Stays on Amazon]). Also, we discourage badmouthing other forums.

- No unsolicited critiques. If someone explicitly requests critique of their writing, blurb, book cover, or whatever else, then it's fine to give your honest opinion in a civil, constructive way. If you're not sure whether or to what degree another poster wants critique, ask them before critiquing.

- Public quotation of material from emails and private groups is generally not allowed. We sometimes make an exception for those posting reviews of interactions with vendors who advertise here.

- Report problematic posts to the moderators using the link that appears to the bottom-right of each post. Reporting is better than escalating. Also, know that you can use the forum software to put another member on "ignore."

- KBoards Content: Explicit images of violence are not allowed. In addition, "adult content" is not allowed, which includes erotic images, erotic text, and links to erotic content. Please use your judgment, and respect that the moderator team and the board owner have final say. (See our FAQ for more info.)

- No self-promotion. Authors, we do allow you to post about your Kindle book, but only in the Book Bazaar board. See detailed author self-promo rules below.


- Sometimes newcomers ask questions that have been asked and answered before. That's okay. Help them out, and politely show them where the answer can be found. The forums are a big place and though we try to make information accessible, it takes a little while to get used to where everything is. If a newbie question really bothers you, just skip by that post and move on. Someone else will probably help.


There are actually quite a few more rules than this, so it's worth taking a look at the entire Forum Decorum post, which includes specific rules for author self-promo and vendor advertising. Some of our rules are rarely tested anymore, since the forum (and the rest of the internet) has changed over time, but all are still in force.

An FYI for those who aren't longtime members: Harvey Chute was the founder and owner of KBoards. His "Forum Decorum" was the 75th of KBoards' 3.5 million+ posts.

This is a purely informative post, so I'll be locking the thread. As I said above, any questions should be directed to me via PM. Thanks, all. :)

Writers' Cafe / MOVED: Free book for writers
« on: April 20, 2020, 02:12:28 pm »

Writers' Cafe / Craft: Dangling Modifiers
« on: April 19, 2020, 11:46:47 am »
Like college professors the world over, I've had to take my classes online in midstream this semester. That means I've put some of my mechanics lessons into written form. Thought I might share some here, just in case anyone finds them useful. This one is on dangling modifiers, an extremely common error. :)

Dangling Modifiers

Sometimes one attaches a chunk of text to the beginning of a sentence with the intention of providing extra information. For instance, one might say:

    Walking out to the car, I tripped and spilled coffee on my pants.

The underlined bit isn't really necessary; the essential info is that I tripped and spilled coffee. But since the reader might like to know why or what I was doing when I tripped, I appended a chunk at the beginning that explains I was "walking out to the car" at the time. That underlined bit -- the extra info -- is known as a modifier. It modifies the subject of the sentence (in this case, "I") by providing additional information about it.

Sometimes modifiers dangle. That means there's a mismatch between the modifier and the subject, leading to a modifier that's not attached to the sentence in a way that makes sense. It is, in other words, left "dangling" there instead of being properly glued on. Here's an example of a dangling modifier:

    Walking out to the car, the coffee spilled on my pants.

The modifier has to modify the sentence's subject, but here the subject is "the coffee." So what the sentence literally means is that the coffee was "walking out to the car." That's not possible: coffee can't walk! So the modifier no longer makes clear sense, and the reader has to guess what the writer meant.

To fix the above dangler, the original form of the sentence is one possibility, but there are LOTS of other options! How about:
  • The coffee spilled on my pants while I was walking out to the car.
  • I was walking out to the car when I spilled coffee on my pants.
  • During my walk to the car, I spilled coffee on my pants.
  • I spilled coffee on my pants. I was walking to the car when it happened.
Once you learn to recognize dangling modifiers, you will see them everywhere. They're one of the most common -- and unintentionally funny -- errors around.

P.S. There are also misplaced and unclear modifiers, which can be very funny. This Groucho Marx joke is a fun example: "One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I'll never know."

For credit, respond to this lesson by either 1) correcting one of the following dangling modifiers in a way no other poster yet has or 2) finding your own dangling modifier "in the wild," in your own writing or elsewhere. If you find me a new example, you don't have to fix it. You also don't have to reveal the source, if doing so might embarrass someone. 

Some sentences with dangling modifiers -- and yes, I found all of these in the wild:
  • Being a Tuesday, I was able to secure a spot with a minimum of hardship.
  • As your husband, you are safe from me.
  • If eaten, mistaken mushroom pickers suffer an even more unpleasant fate.
  • With four heads and a beastly though serpentine body, I did not want to mess with that thing.
  • Formerly wildly social, an avid tennis player, and a mainstay of New York City's downtown literary scene, the illness kept her in her apartment for days at a time.
  • Though a generous size, Jane suspected that -- were she to yell -- her voice would echo off the bare stone walls.
  • As second in line to the throne after his father, the rumor could damage the royal family's reputation.
  • Nasty, self-important, and twenty years her senior, she had every reason to hate him.
  • With a capacity of 1,300, both Smith and Doe expect the new Bowling Center to be a packed house.
  • Once considered a myth among shepherds, seen only by fearful farmers in the dead of night, an ongoing project on the Mediterranean island of Corsica set out to uncover the mystery of the ghjattu-volpe, translated as "cat-fox."
  • While doing yard work, my dog escaped about 20 minutes ago.
  • Causing squashed ribs and hearts or displaced spleens, Victorian women would endure waist-clinching corsets in the name of "beauty."

Writers' Cafe / MOVED: Arnold`s book blaze of dragon
« on: March 12, 2020, 10:05:19 pm »

Writers' Cafe / MOVED: Eloise of Westhaven Not just a kid
« on: March 11, 2020, 12:46:30 pm »

Writers' Cafe / MOVED: Six Minutes to Spare
« on: February 08, 2020, 07:56:48 pm »

Writers' Cafe / MOVED: Help with Reviews
« on: January 16, 2020, 07:36:10 pm »

Writers' Cafe / MOVED: Ohio Magazine
« on: January 12, 2020, 07:06:46 pm »

Writers' Cafe / MOVED: Advance reviews needed for sci-fi novel
« on: February 28, 2019, 11:28:23 am »

Not Quite Kindle / MOVED: Removing A Title Completely from KU
« on: January 10, 2019, 09:02:50 am »

Writers' Cafe / sellers stage one-week boycott
« on: November 05, 2018, 11:40:54 am »

The TL;DR of the article, which has been on the front page of the Times's mobile site today and yesterday) is that the Amazon subsidiary decided to stop working with used-book sellers from South Korea, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Russia, without a whole lot of explanation. In response, 270+ other AbeBooks sellers have taken their books off sale (by marking themselves "on vacation") for one week to protest the change -- a support/solidarity thing.

This interests me not because I think AbeBooks/Amazon is going to rescind the change but because the sellers' protest seems like a relatively no-pain gesture that managed to attract front-page attention from such a major media outlet (the New York Times is often called the U.S.'s "paper of record").

Other than the Times, I'm not seeing widespread attention, at this point. Some articles in smaller outlets show up in Google (here, here, here, here, and a few others). Based on the articles' similar wording, I get the sense that a press release went out. There's a Twitter hashtag with a little bit of action.

So, hardly a PR slam dunk in the larger sense, but still -- front page of the NYT is a plum.

Thoughts on this sort of thing as a strategy for attracting attention to various Amazon-sales-environment issues indie authors face? I'm of mixed mind myself but thought it seemed worth knowing about and/or discussing.

ET fix thread title, which I realized was confusing.

The Book Corner / Looking for children's classics
« on: September 24, 2018, 06:32:41 pm »
I'm on a campaign to read famous children's classics to my kids -- you know, the kind of stuff you feel sort of odd not to have read, once you've grown up, because they're cultural touchstones, and everyone else seems to know them. So far, we've done Charlotte's Web, Old Yeller, and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, and we've just started Bridge to Terabithia. We also read The Cat Who Went to Heaven, which I think isn't famous but was one of my personal faves when I was a kid. We have Island of the Blue Dolphins on deck.

Anyone have any recommendations?? I'm not sure why I'm drawing such a blank on these kinds of books.

Writers' Cafe / Amazon now worth $1 trillion
« on: September 04, 2018, 10:08:08 am »
Seeing news this morning that Amazon has achieved $1 trillion in valuation, close on Apple's heels.

Aside: The article mentions Amazon has filed a patent on a design for a floating fulfillment center, some kind of blimp-cum-warehouse-cum-billboard thingie.  :-\

I'm seeing some discussion on Facebook of a comment made by a blue-check Amazon Twitter account (@AmazonHelp) in response to a reader unhappy because her review of a book was rejected. The account's comment reads, in part, "Being linked to an author on Facebook, Twitter or another social platform can contribute to bias," that bias being cause for review rejection.

I have to say, I've always been sort of dubious of the idea that Amazon was mining social media accounts for reader-author connections to feed into their review-approval mechanism. It just seemed so ... excessive. But I guess maybe they are. Sort of panopticon-ish, isn't it? <shiver>

Writers' Cafe / The meaning of your stories
« on: August 28, 2018, 01:31:49 pm »
So, I just finished reading Old Yeller aloud to my kids. Well, my spouse had to read the last bit -- I got too weepy. :-[  Afterwards, I asked my kids if they thought the author was trying to tell us anything through the story. Basically, I was asking if there's a "moral of the story," though I didn't put it that way. Some interesting conversation ensued, though what they got out of the book was pretty different from what I did, which was basically:

At any rate, it got me thinking about whether my books have morals or messages. My knee-jerk reaction was that they don't. I'm just trying to write good stories, not send messages. Then I second-guessed myself, because even stories aimed squarely at entertainment can and do deal with serious subjects, and when you write about a subject -- any subject -- you are presenting it to the reader as something they might ponder, if they're so inclined. So I came to the compromise idea that while my stories may raise or explore certain issues, they don't make clear pronouncements on those issues. But then I began third-guessing myself. After all, I myself have positions on stuff. Surely my positions deeply inform the way I raise or explore issues, even if I don't try to explicitly advocate my own view.

I'm not particularly talking about political issues, BTW. Just having reread Old Yeller, my mind was running along more philosophical lines, like what does it mean to be responsible, how should we deal with loss, what does it mean to love, and so forth. Near the end of that book, the main character's father says,
What I mean is, things like that happen. They may seem mighty cruel and unfair, but that's how life is a part of the time. But that isn't the only way life is. A part of the time, it's mighty good. And a man can't afford to waste all the good parts, worrying about the bad parts. That makes it all bad.
On the one hand, that sounds like commonsense advice, but I think it does represent a particular outlook on how to move through life and the world. Placed in the same position, some other parent might say something very different. It's just one character's advice, and the book doesn't explicitly endorse it, but these words seem to help the main character and do fit the way he moves on and begins to find joy again, so there's some implicit endorsement there. Are the father's words one of the book's core messages? I'm thinking maybe they are, if subtly so.

Considering it some more, I decided that while I'm not particularly interested in placing explicit "messages" in my fiction, my sense of what life means, what does and doesn't matter, how we should conduct ourselves, and other big stuff probably comes through pretty strongly.

Dunno. I'm still thinking about it.

tl;dr: Old Yeller still packs a wallop. ::)

Someone I know who speaks outstanding English but is not a native speaker encountered the following line in a [redacted] song: "Who run the world? / [Cats]." She wants to know if "run" or "runs" is technically correct in that sentence. And truth be told, I'm not entirely sure!

It's of course fine for writers, including songwriters, to flex language as they please, which my friend understands. So, no one's asserting there's a problem with [redacted's] choice. But as a non-native speaker of English, my friend wants a better understanding of what's technically correct in a sentence like that, in case she wants to use such a structure herself.

My ear tells me that the technically correct choice would be "runs": "Who runs the world? / [Cats]." But I don't really know why that sounds right to me. If we flipped the sentence around and got "[Cats] who run the world ...," it'd be "run" because the pronoun clearly stands for "[cats]," which is plural. But when the pronoun comes before a noun is supplied, my ear seems to want to treat it as singular as a sort of default. Knowing the answer to the question is going to be plural doesn't change it for me.

Am I wrong? If so, why? If not, why not? What rules govern this kind of pronoun situation?

Edited to disguise the song in question. I won't bother editing others' posts, but for future reference, the line is "Who run the world? / Cats," which as all people who've been owned by a cat know, is unquestionably true.

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