It doesn’t hurt to use a search engine, I promise.

Come over here. Yes, you. Sit down right here beside me–we need to talk.

Look, I know you’re excited about writing a story set in a place you love, but have never been to. I understand, I do. Now, sweetness, it’s really really important to remember that there are people who live in the place you’ve chosen for your story’s setting, and that, particularly in the US, it’s likely they’ll have a chance to read it.

You see where I’m going with this, don’t you? Sh, no, just let me have my say, please. When you pick a particular location, you need to look up some fundamental basics. Check out the weather patterns, for instance, and look at the average temperatures for various times of the year. I’ve never been to New Orleans (argh argh argh), but I know that they don’t get hurricanes year-round. Kansas is not all corn fields and tornadoes 24/7/365. There are more cities in North Dakota than Pierre and Minot. Not everyone in Minnesota is decended from Scandanavian stock, eats hotdish, or is Lutheran (or all three at once).

If you can’t go to your chosen location for whatever reason–financial, familial, etc–then for the love of all that is seen and unseen GO TO THE LIBRARY. Use Google or whatever your search engine of choice is. Check out guidebooks, check out blogs from people living in the area (even if you do have to wade through the unpredictable results of machine translation), ask the people you know if they know anyone in [Wherever]. I personally know a guy who knows people in Finland, plus I know there’s a Finn on one of my mailing lists. If I want the lowdown on living on a farm just below the Arctic circle, I can ask them if they either know anything about it or know someone who does.

Please. It doesn’t take all that long — and if you’re like me and tend to get sidetracked, set aside a couple of hours one weekend and just get lost. Make notes and bookmarks, or copies, or whatever! It doesn’t matter if you ever use all of the information, but at least do your readers the courtesy of actually making the attempt.

Thanks for listening,

love,

A fan of Street View for finding neat-looking places

Punctuation! Not For The Faint Of Heart.

Or something like that, anyway.

Reading–or trying to read–a story where someone has gone through and stripped out all of the ellipses and replaced them with a single period is almost enough to make me tear out my hair. They didn’t bother replacing them with em-dashes, or evaluating each ellipse on a case-by-case basis to see if they actually needed it to stay, they just removed them wholesale. (Or maybe they were never there in the first place, I don’t know.)

“I.” isn’t a sentence. It should not have a full stop at the end. “I…” or “I–” conveys a sense of being uncertain and interrupted, respectively, if that’s what you’re intending. If you want your reader to take a little break, you can start with “I,” add some narrative, then go back to dialogue.

Seriously, there’s a really good reason that style manuals are intended for everything except dialogue: people never ever speak exactly like a style manual was the only book in the house during their formative years. Not even the most rigidly proper speaker of a language does. Not even people who are paid professional editors.