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-isms

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This is number forty-nine in the blog series, “My Life in Erotica.” I encourage you to join my Patreon community to support my writing.


I’M NOT TALKING about Methodism or Buddhism. I’m talking about authorisms. I definitely have mine. If you write at all, it’s more than likely that you have them, too. Maybe different ones, but they are there.

“This is a place where you could use your favorite punctuation,” one of my editors commented.

“What?” I asked.

“This just calls out for a semicolon.”

Oh, yeah. I do use semicolons. In fact, I have one tattooed on my right wrist.

Why?

A semicolon is used where an author could have ended the sentence but chose instead to continue. I am the author. My life is the sentence.

Actually, the semicolon was an invention of the Renaissance and was first used in a work published in Venice by Aldus Manutius in 1494 and in the famous typeface named after the author Bembo. It was used in Bembo’s essay “De Aetna” to prolong a pause or create a more distinct separation. The current rule of thumb is that what follows a semicolon should be a complete clause—in other words, a clause that could stand alone as a complete sentence.

But the semicolon is not the only -ism in my books. I have other favorite punctuation I use, including the ellipsis (…) and the em-dash (—). You’ll see both used liberally in my work—usually correctly. But using them too often is a sign that the author is incorrect in the usage, or is being boring and repetitive.

Cecelia Watson, in her book Semicolon: The Past, Present, and Future of a Misunderstood Mark, cites Henry James as an author known for his use of em-dashes as well as his use of semicolons. Watson writes that the dash “cutting a path” through any page of James is “an arm outstretched as a barrier to keep one thought from tumbling into the next.” (Quoted in The New Yorker, “Sympathy for the Semicolon” by Mary Morris, July 15, 2009.)



When I was working on Drawing on the Dark Side of the Brain back in 2018, I started keeping track of words I used in excess and seeing if I could replace them, or even eliminate them altogether. Oh yes, there were.

My editor Pixel the Cat pointed out to me the unnecessary use of the word “that.” In fact, nearly every occurrence of the word in my stories could simply be eliminated! I believe it was Steven King who suggested eliminating every occurrence of the word “that” in your writing and saving your editor the effort.

There were instances where I was sure it was necessary, but I was referring to a person and the correct word was “who.”

Not, “She’s the one that spotted him.”
Rather, “She’s the one who spotted him.”

I also realized how frequently I start a sentence in dialog with “Well…”

“Well, hell yeah.” “Well, maybe it was better…”
“Well, that’s comforting.” “Well, I did a sketch…”
“Well, I thought you’d be…”

My mother used to correct me when I used the word in speaking to her by saying, “Well is a deep subject for such a shallow mind.” No one ever said she tried to boost my self-esteem.

“So…” came in a close second to “well.”

“So, how do we deal with…” “So, what’s it mean…”
“So, it always surprises…” “So, I suppose you’re wondering…”

Those are actual occurrences of “well” and “so” in the first chapter of Drawing on the Dark Side of the Brain. Yuck! There were few things in my writing that actually followed as a cause and effect, which would be the correct usage of “so.” Edited out in the second edition.

My edited second edition book, Drawing on the Dark Side of the Brain, has just been released on Bookapy.

These might all seem like rather minor -isms, and if that’s as bad as it gets, maybe it’s not so bad after all. Far more egregious is the repetitive nature of sex scenes in erotica. This is true in every medium. In fact, the trope is so frequently used in video porn, it is jarring when a different route is taken.

1. Establishing line or two of dialog that leads to sex.
2. Oral sex commences while one or both parties gets naked.
3. Reversal of oral sex.
4. Basic intercourse in one of three positions: Missionary, cowgirl, or doggy. (May use more than one.)
5. The kink: 69, titty-fuck, anal, reverse cowgirl, tribbing, spanking, or whatever the kink is in this film.
6. The money shot.

If a different path is taken through the process, the viewer might be caught off-guard and not be able to get on track with the scene. Fulfillment denied.

The same is true in written erotica—though we can all hope there is more than the requisite two lines of dialog leading up to the main event. But some authors use the exact same words and sequence in every one of their love scenes. In fact, I believe I could identify some authors simply by the sex scene. This repetition of the same scene with different partners makes for a boring bit of prose and is as predictable as the porn trope above. It could be copied and pasted.


Back twenty years ago, my daughter’s ice skating coach started talking about her isms. “She always flips her fingers like this.” Or, “She has to enter her spins from the right.” A lot of time and money was spent on coaches helping to rid her of her isms.

But not completely. It helps us to become more conscientious authors. We become aware of when we succumb to an ism and can make a decision regarding whether it is appropriate in a particular instance, whether it should simply be deleted, or whether it would be more effective if rewritten.

The least offensive isms are simply boring. The worse ones are painful to the ears as we hear them in our minds.


I try to be fairly spontaneous with these blog posts and allow myself to deal with whatever subject comes to mind next. As a result, I’ve postponed the planned next post on editors and will deal instead with “Imaginary Places.”

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