Say How?

Slippery Tip #7: Poor grammar can (and will) distract readers from masturbating.

Okay, so I’ve been assiduously avoiding this topic since I began this series, but I have to deal with it at some point – grammar. Ugh.

There are two things guaranteed to make my lady wood wilt and cause me to stop reading an erotic story: The mention of a 12-inch cock (especially if this is treated as the expected average), and bad grammar. As soon as I hit the second grammar error, I drop out of horny reader mode and slip into analytical proofreader mode, which is anything but arousing when I’m trying to get off. A lot of porn readers don’t care about grammar and just breeze past these niggling little speedbumps, but, for me, poor grammar and proofreading shows that the writer doesn’t value his or her own work enough to care about how they present it to readers. If they can’t be bothered to take the time to properly proofread and edit their story, why should I waste my time reading it? It also shows a level of disrespect for the readers (IMNSHO).

With that being said, I know that I have my share of typos and slip ups in my own writing. I do my best to excise all the gremlins before publishing my posts and stories, but something always seems to manage to get through. Even stories that I’ve combed through a dozen times! If I go back a year later and read it again, I’ll find several glaring errors that jump off the page and I can’t believe I didn’t see them before. In fact, I’m almost certain you’ll find a few mistakes that I missed in this post! This is the pitfall of proofreading your own stuff – you have a tendency to see what you intended to write and not what is actually on the page. I generally don’t take this advice myself, but it’s never a bad idea to have someone else proofread your stories before you share them – even if they’re not a grammar expert, they’ll easily spot dropped words and other errors that you skimmed past several times without even noticing.

One reference that I find invaluable is “The Creative Writer’s Style Guide,” by Christopher T. Leland. It has a lot of advice and examples specifically aimed at the special circumstances that fiction writers most often encounter (as opposed to most style guides which are aimed at essay writers and the like). This book was out of print when I first hunted down my copy, but you can now get it on Amazon at a reasonable price. A cheap alternative, however, would be for you to resort to the monkey-see, monkey-do method. If you’re not sure how to punctuate something in your fiction, just pull a published novel off the shelf and find a matching example of what you’re trying to do and follow their lead. It can be time consuming at first, but you’ll start to internalize the rules and at least appear to be an expert after a while.

My goal is to keep my tips tight and to the point, so I’m not going to try to tackle every aspect of grammar or this would turn into a book. What I’d like to do today is look at something that trips up a lot of beginning and amateur writers (and sometimes veteran writers): How to punctuate dialogue.

Punctuating dialogue is one area that looking at examples in a published novel will usually provide a quick and easy model for you to mimic. Just be careful, the American conventions differ from those commonly used with British English, so pay attention to your source material and know your target reading audience. There are only a few rules/patterns you really need to remember that a lot of people mess up.

First, just to make sure we’re all on the same page, dialogue is anything a character says (or thinks) that appears between quotation marks. “Fuck me with your 12-inch cock!” A bit of dialogue like this can often stand on its own. The reader will presumably understand who is speaking based on the context. But, it is often necessary to include a cue to indicate who the speaker is so the reader doesn’t get confused. “Fuck me with your 12-inch cock,” Mimsy said.

Notice that this line of dialogue ends with a comma – NOT a period (as might seem intuitive to many). If you use an attribution (e.g. Mimsy said), then the line of dialogue before it gets a comma. Things become a little strange when the line of dialogue wouldn’t normally end with a period. “Fuck me with your 12-inch cock!” she begged. Here we want to add some emphasis to Mimsy’s dialogue, and so we end the line with and exclamation point! Usually, this would indicate the end of a sentence and we’d capitalize the next word as the first one in a new sentence. In the case of dialogue, we don’t do this (she begged is not a new or discrete sentence on its own, but rather part of the sentence that includes the dialogue). If, instead, you dropped the attribution and used a line of action to identify Mimsy as the speaker, then you would capitalize as normal: “Fuck me with your 12-inch cock!” She spread her legs wide, ready to receive his huge member into her drooling love tunnel. Here, She is capitalized because what follows the dialogue is a new, discrete sentence that stands on its own. This same rule applies to question marks. “Do you think your 12-inch cock will fit in my tight, little, virgin cunt-hole?” she asked.

An important detail to notice in the examples above is that the punctuation appears INSIDE the closing quotation mark. In American English this is almost always the case. There is a unique situation where this wouldn’t apply (having to do with a character quoting someone within their dialogue), but you are unlikely to have to deal with this special case on any kind of a regular basis. This little convention (punctuation always inside the quotation mark) is where American English diverges from British English, where (and don’t quote me on this) it is acceptable for the punctuation to appear outside of the quotation mark.

A quick tip on quotation marks – ‘single quotation marks’ are only used for quotes within quotes (to distinguish inner quotes from the outer. They are not for “less significant” quotes (or to indicate “air quotes”). For example: I guess you could say I’ve had my share of ‘lesbian’ encounters over the years, but I still consider myself just bi-curious. Here, ‘lesbian’ should be in double quotes (“lesbian”).

Another thing I’d like to mention is that tempting little bugger known as…the ellipsis. It is very easy to overuse this handy bit of punctuation, which can become a distraction to some readers (i.e. me!). It’s good for indicating hesitation, or a stammer, “I…um…think your…ah…tits are really nice, Mom.” It’s also used for when a character trails off, leaving a thought unfinished, “I never knew your nipples were so…” These should be about the only two places you use an ellipsis in your fiction writing. In other types of writing, it is used to indicate an omission from a quote or piece of quoted text, but that is rarely something you’ll need to do when writing porn. Note that the ellipsis is THREE dots, never more, never less. THREE! Always THREE, only THREE, forever THREE! I think you……get the idea. There is also NO space before or after an ellipsis.

Now, there are cases where an ellipsis can be immediately followed by another punctuation mark (most commonly with questions). “Do you want me to suck your…?” For my fiction writing, however, I never use commas or periods after an ellipsis. “Yes, suck my…,” she whispered, unsure if she could say such a dirty word aloud in front of her mother. This is more of a style thing than a hard and fast grammar rule, so it technically wouldn’t be incorrect to punctuate the previous sentence as it is. But, to me, the ellipsis indicates a pause, and the comma indicates a pause (or separation), so the comma in this situation feels redundant and unnecessary to me. “Yes, suck my…” she whispered. This just looks and feels better to me. There is also a case when using a period after an ellipsis when the end of a quote is omitted (which makes the ellipsis look like it’s composed of four dots), but, again, not a situation you’re likely to run into when writing fiction. So, THREE dots, no spaces before and after, and probably no punctuation immediately following.

Oh, and don’t use an ellipsis for when you want to show someone is being interrupted. Use a dash for this. A dash indicates an abrupt end at the end of a line of dialogue (rather than a trailing off).

The last thing I want to touch on is Direct Addresses. “Lick my clit, Mom!” In this line of dialogue, the direct address is Mom. Always set off your direct addresses with a comma. “Mom, lick my clit,” my daughter begged. “Suck my balls, Dad,” Timmy groaned. “Eat my ass, baby brother!” she cried out. “What I really want, Auntie Rachael, is for you to fuck me with that 12-inch strap-on cock of yours.” This brings up another tricky point – when to capitalize mom and dad. If mom or dad is being used like a proper noun (in other words, you could replace mom with mom’s name and the sentence would still make sense), then capitalize. “Let’s DP Mom tonight!” would also work if you used her name, “Let’s DP Marjorie tonight!” But, “Let’s DP your mom tonight!” wouldn’t necessarily work if you swapped in her name, “Let’s DP your Marjorie tonight!” so you’d use lower case. A good clue is if there’s a possessive preceding the pronoun, don’t capitalize it. My uncle, your dad, our mother, his sister, etc. Also, if it’s being used to refer to a class of people generally, no capital. “I wonder how many moms own vibrators.” These rules get a little confusing when it comes to terms of endearment. “Pound my ass, baby!” Suck my nipples, sweetheart.” “Swallow my cum, slut.” “Choke on my cock, dear.” Yes, all of these terms of endearment can be replaced with the subject’s proper name, but they nonetheless don’t get capitalized.

Okay, the more I write, the more stuff I think of that I want to warn you about, but I have to stop before I end up with a book. Just remember, I’m not an accredited expert when it comes to grammar, so it’s possible I’ve gotten something wrong, or perhaps you disagree with something I’ve written here. The thing to keep in mind is that there are hard and fast grammar rules, and then there are looser style guidelines. Often style conventions are treated like rules, and it can be difficult to suss out which are which. Hopefully the few tips I’ve provided here have given some of you a clearer idea of how to format your dialogue punctuation-wise (which will save me some valuable editing time!). Just remember to not worry about this kind of stuff while you’re working on your first draft. Get all the creative stuff out of your head and onto the page, then later you can put on your editor cap and deal with all the persnickety rules and technicalities. Not being able to “write good” is no excuse for not giving erotica/porn a try. Sharing your perverse visions with the world is a very rewarding endeavor even if you don’t know a comma splice from your arsehole. Just do it! and everything will just kind of find a way to work itself out. Beleeb me (as our Dear Leader would say).

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16 thoughts on “Say How?

  1. Agreed, poor grammar causes me to bail on more content than anything else. I am now going to spend the rest of the day playing with my 12 inch cock.

  2. My wife smacked me with the cooking magazine that she was reading when I referenced her “drooling love tunnel”. I just have one question. How many dots are there in an ellipsis?

  3. Well said/written. Now could you write something like this to those with whom I work. Their interoffice, interdepartmental memos come across like texts between tweens.

  4. @Anon: Yeah, but were you waving your 12-inch cock at her when you said it? Here’s a handy mnemonic for ellipes…it has as many dots as your wife has inputs.

  5. @DMM: Sadly, the wife just has two inputs. The other is an exit only. My 12- inch cock wouldn’t fit in there regardless.

  6. Nice tip! You’d mentioned the possibility of packaging up some of your work and putting it on Amazon? I could see _Rachael’s 12″ Guide To Erotic Grammar_ selling a few copies.

    Those of us coming from a software background often have issues with dialog. Putting that end comma inside the quotes feels so wrong!

  7. @MisterPickles: Ha! I never thought of it from that perspective before. I guess you’ll just have to try looking at English grammar as a programming language of its own with some very strange and illogical syntax rules. My husband has shelves of coding books, I wonder if O’Reilly ever thought of doing a grammar guide in the same style they do technical books. If they do, we should get royalties!

  8. @Ken: Like all right-thinking people with any sense, I’m a staunch advocate for the assiduous application of the venerable Oxford comma! I can accept it if a writer makes the nonsensical style choice to leave out the last twiddle, but I do end up silently hating them with a seething, white-hot loathing that permeates my entire being and prevents me from reading any of their poems, stories, or books for the rest of my existence.

  9. Oops – I just remembered something else I wanted to include with this tip!

    Avoid using semi-colons and colons in dialogue. I feel like we don’t use these types of punctuation marks when we speak – a comma or a period will almost always do the job nicely instead. I find semi-colons and colons in dialogue to be distracting and weird (in addition to them being misused by many/most beginning writers). It’s best to avoid getting tripped up by these odd little buggers and find a more natural way to phrase your character’s speech without them.

    Phew – I’m glad I got that off my chest (which now has nothing on it at all!).

  10. Thank you for this. I’ve saved it to refer back to. I’ve always been bad at grammar and it’s something that irritates me as well when I read a story with typos and mistakes. It’s something I’m personally always trying to get better at.

    I want to mention the “12-inch cock” thing. There is no surer way to tell that the author is a man than using quantifiable data and measurements. “She was a 38 BB,” or “Girl was 5′ 3″ and 180 pounds.” These are details that most readers don’t care about, or have no desire to translate into mental images. They’re cold and impersonal and definitely NOT sexy.

    Much better to say, “He had an extremely long cock, unusually, so; one which would probably hurt if he wasn’t very careful with how deep and hard he plunged it.” And for the tits? Just describe the damn tits! “She was voluptuous, her glorious orbs of delightful bounty spilling from her top and impressing themselves upon his fevered mind.” All we need to know is they are bigger than a handful! As for the chubby and cherubic petite, no one really needs to know how she effects a scale. Just mention she is short and plump and focus on her personality.

    I don’t mean this as some condemnation of male writers but there is a psychological basis for my rather broad brush. In general, men are ‘thing-focused’ where women are ‘person-focused.’ (There is loads of research on this) It’s why you have more gadget-guys, or car-guys. Men tend to have more technical hobbies and remember reams of stats about their favorite sportsball players. This isn’t a bad thing. Men are also more likely to be engineers and architects, but we need to remember that stories are about relationships and all those numbers will get in the way.

    Not only that, there are really only a few countries which use Inches or Pounds as a measuring system. Best not remind everyone you living in one of those three backward countries. In the interest of keeping your stories broadly appealing, avoid measurements all together.

  11. @Cunni: YES! You’re probably right that this descriptive technique is a habit more male writers exhibit, but anyone can fall prey to it. I think it’s an excellent area to apply the show-don’t-tell advice “real” writers are always espousing. I’ve never encountered a 12-inch cock, so I have no real frame of reference. Plus, if you tell me to hold my hands 12 inches apart, I’ll most likely fail miserably. BUT, if the writer tells me: “She was able to grip his length with two hands and still have enough available shaft to stroke him up and down. Betty squeezed his impressive member tighter, unable to wrap her hands fully around his girth.” NOW I get it! He’s got a huge cock! And, I can hold my hands one atop the other, fingers curling around but not quite touching my thumb, and I can instantly conceptualize just how big he is without having to rummage around in my junk drawer looking for a ruler. And, even though I’m a woman, I can’t immediately conjure up an accurate visualization of a woman’s boobs based solely on bra size. All that registers in my mind is whether she’s thicker or thinner than me, or fills a bigger or smaller cup (assuming she knows how to correctly calculate her bra size – which isn’t a given). I’m a big fan of description over measurement (especially when those measurements are presented in a very un-sexy tale-of-the-tape kind of style), and I whole-heartedly advise all porn writers make an effort to show-not-tell when it comes to physical descriptions of their characters.

  12. OMG! I just downloaded an erotic eBook from Amazon as part of my research for publishing my own stuff and it was atrocious! I had to stop reading 10 pages in because of all the grammar, proofreading, and punctuation errors! I would be so fucking pissed if I’d paid to read this and gotten that level of garbage. Luckily, I signed up for a free trial of Kindle Unlimited, so I didn’t have to waste any money. I hope everything on Amazon isn’t this bad! The only good part was that I laughed through the ridiculous opening sex scene, so at least I got some amusement out of it…

    BTW I give “Detecting Lust” by Mikey Lee 0 (zero) stars! Favorite line: “Flicking his tongue up and down her clit like Sugar Ray Leonard on the speed bag, Seth worked his tongue inside her hole….”* If I had any doubt that this was written by a man, this confirmed it! Least favorite line: “Zee felt every inch of Seth’s cock stabbing at what felt like her esophagus.” The word “stabbing” almost never works for me in a sex scene. This wouldn’t have made me laugh if she was deep throating him, but in this case our boy Seth was fucking her pussy. Just picturing his cock some how making the leap from her vagina to her digestive track, then snaking up through her intestines, through her stomach (watch out for acid reflux), and stabbing her esophagus was just too comical to tolerate. Corniest line: “Every curl downward increased the depth until he was practically thrusting into her soul.” Puh-lease! Maybe I’m just bitter because I’ve never had my soul fucked before.

    All of the above took place in the shower with him hoisting her up on his dick, and even up to his shoulders when he was eating her out. The last place I want to do sexual acrobatics first thing in the morning is in a slick, soapy bathtub! It was all just too comical to produce even a single drop of pussy juice, and then the myriad punctuation errors just completely dried out my twat. I didn’t want to trash this poor guy on Amazon, but I HAD to vent about it to someone, so…you’re welcome!

    * Notice how I used the ellipsis there (THREE dots), followed by a period (fourth dot), indicating that there is an omission from the quoted material that encompasses the entire remainder of the sentence to the original period. Fancy!

  13. Oh, Rachael! This is why you should totally publish books on Amazon, though you’d have to do the stepfather/stepfamily thing for Amazon. You’re writing is superior, and I’m not talking about grammar and mechanics; you write the best porn ever!

    Notice my correct usage of the semi-colon.

  14. Rachael,

    I just read this section of tips for writers. Excellent. Clear. Flowing. Easy to understand.

    I grinningly thought about one using it in a high-school language class. I suspect one would have to insert different examples. But the students would NEVER forget the lesson.

    I will adopt your rule on ellipses — almost. I will drop the spaces before and after, as you suggest, unless the ellipse represents a specific word, or occurs at the beginning of a quote (as when quoting a statement that has a lot of irrelevant stuff at the beginning). Original sentence: “After dusting off his hands from the carpentry he’d done before arriving at the U.N., he said, “The Rule of Law is the foundation of civilization.” I would write, “…. The rule of law (etc.)”

    I have personally adopted the four-dot ellipse when the ellipse is replacing a full sentence sentences (where periods exist). I use the three-dot ellipse which replace incomplete sentences/phrases when the original does not have periods. To me that gives clarity to the researcher who will be checking on the accuracy of a quoted statement (a waste of time with this Administration).

    I do like the symmetry and completeness of using punctuation after the ellipse.

    Because of the risk of hackers, she knew she could not write out the name of R…. She also knew that she should not mention the soft — but electric — and magical labia R… had allowed her to relish.

    I share your dismay of bad grammar and misuse of words. I am tempted to wrongly equate that with lack of intelligence, but it is usually from lack of education.

    I’m encouraged that you, who are a sexual writing virtuoso, sometimes slip. That makes you all the more attractive. And (never begin a sentence with “and.”) there is absolutely no doubt about your flowing, rapid, and deep intelligence.

    Stay Rachael.

    One of your myriad of fans,

    Lance

  15. My apologies for my February 13, 2018 at 3:02 am comment which contained punctuation errors, because I did not take the time to properly proof-read.

    Mea culpa. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

    Lance

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