Category Archives: writing

#FridayFragment: 03.08.2019

Papyrus text: fragment of Hippocratic oath: verso, showing oath. Via Wkimedia Commons.

Slowly, unnoticed at first, the kettle came to a boil. A soft simmering sound, then bubbling, a gentle blowing; then faster and faster, sharp and shrill, the whistle screamed its message into the air. “I’m seething, roiling, boiling! Get me off the heat! Do it nowwwwwww!”

I knew exactly how it felt.

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Happy Birthday, Harry Potter! (or: “Platform 9 3/4”)

I got another runner-up win in a WritersDomain writing contest!! It was a Harry Potter FanFiction contest, in honour of Harry’s birthday, which is today, July 31. I’d never written fanfiction before (turned up my nose at it, if I’ve got to be honest), but this one I couldn’t resist. I mean, Harry Potter

And seeing as I was just there a year ago, at King’s Cross and the Platform 9 3/4 Store, that’s what I wrote about.

You can read it here: “Platform 9 3/4” – scroll down, mine is the third entry. On second thought, don’t scroll down, read the other two first. They’re really good. I might have to revise my opinion on fanfiction.

Life, the Universe, and Platform 9 3/4. Alohomora!

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#FridayFragment: 27.07.2018

Papyrus text: fragment of Hippocratic oath: verso, showing oath. Via Wkimedia Commons.

I dropped my piece of toast, butter-side down.

“What the … ?” I stared. Blinked. Stared again.

But it was really there. Without a doubt. On my pantry shelf there sat an emerald-green dragon, all of four inches long from small smoke-spouting snout to lithe, whipping tail, its scales glittering in the light that fell through the doorway from the kitchen.

“Sssss!” it hissed at me.

“Sssss to you too!” I hissed back at it.

I should have known right there that I wasn’t quite in my right mind – having a hissing contest with a miniature dragon, rather than running screaming from the pantry or at least backing out slowly and carefully and then gently soaking my head in a sinkful of cold water until the hallucinations went away.

There was a knock on the front door.

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The Editor Pontificates: He Said, She Said

Punctuating dialogue seems to be a bête noire for a lot of fiction writers. Never mind what word you should use for describing your character’s utterance – he said, she yelled, it whispered, I answered – the real question seems to be, do you capitalise it or not? Which punctuation mark goes on the end of the sentence, inside the quotation marks, and what goes outside?

It’s not really that hard. Dialogue in fiction, I told the Offspring when we were homeschooling, is like speech bubbles in comic strips (I made them transcribe lots of Garfield comics to practise, poor things). The quotation marks are the speech bubble (somebody is saying something); the text is what goes inside the bubble (here’s what they’re saying); and the little pointy tail on the bubble is the speech tag (this is who is talking).

So if you picture your scene as a comic strip (or call it “graphic novel”, if that makes you feel more grown-up), all you need to do is put those speech bubbles in place and write down what you see.

The thing to keep in mind is that the speech bubble, pointy tail and all, is one unit. What that means is that speech and speech tag are one sentence, and you punctuate them accordingly: the speech tag is in lower case, because it’s the middle of the sentence. It’s easy to figure out: “he said” can’t be a sentence in its own right, ever – so you don’t capitalise it when it comes after a speech.

So here’s an example:

Steve comic 1

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” said Steve the Bear.

Easy speech tag, lower case. Question marks and exclamation marks stay just as they are, at the end of the sentence inside the bubble, so we know that the speaker is asking a question or exclaiming.

One slightly tricky case, however, is the period at the end of a speech. Because the speech and the speech tag are one sentence, English punctuation converts that period into a comma inside the quotation marks, and puts the period at the end of the speech tag instead.

Like so:

Steve comic 2

“Why on earth would you want to do that? That’s weird,” she said.

If you want to expand the speech tag, the period goes on the end of the expanded part, because it’s a part of the sentence:

“Why on earth would you want to do that? That’s weird,” she said, frowning at him.

This is the thing that trips people up the most, that comma/lowercase convention. The thing is that if you capitalise the word after the speech, you’ve started a new sentence – you’ve chopped off the pointy tail. A lone “He said” is just as disconcerting as a free-floating pointy speech bubble tail.

You are, of course, free to start a new sentence after a speech – often, a speech tag isn’t necessary; it’s clear who speaks without the pointy tail. And in that case, you want to keep the period as a period. Here, for example, I could say:

“Why on earth would you want to do that? That’s weird.” She frowned at him.

Another thing that’s a bit tricky is interjected speech tags – the speech tag in the middle of that sentence package. You read the first part of the speech, then look at where the tail is pointing, then read the rest of the text in the bubble. But once again, we’re dealing with one sentence here, so the speech tag is set off with commas, and what comes after a comma is always a lowercase letter.

Steve comic 3

“You’re right,” he said, “it was a silly idea. Never mind.”

If you break up the sentence inside the bubble with a speech tag, lowercase the letter in the second part of the quotation. If, however, your speech tag comes between two complete speech sentences, the second sentence still starts with an uppercase letter, just like it does inside the bubble:

“You’re right, it was a silly idea,” he said. “Never mind.”

And there you have it. Punctuation of direct speech, caps and lowercases, and Steve the Bear waxing Shakespearean on me.

“I can only blame the heat of the day for it,” she said, wrinkling her forehead, “it’s pretty toasty today.”

“You just can’t take compliments!” yelled Steve from the back of the couch. “Besides, bears don’t mind the heat.” His voice got quieter as he rolled down onto the couch cushions. “Have you seen my notebook? I’m sure I left it somewhere around here…”

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#FridayFragment: 13.07.2018

Papyrus text: fragment of Hippocratic oath: verso, showing oath. Via Wkimedia Commons.

“I really don’t know,” Liza said.

The clock ticked, slicing the silence into slivers.

“Yeah.” Crystal put her tumbler down on the glass coaster.

Its soft “clink” suddenly irritated Liza. Glass coasters! Stupid, round, pressed-“crystal” things that her Aunt Sue had given her as an engagement present!

What would happen if she picked up the whole stupid stack of the stupid things and sent them hurling into the plate glass of the picture window? One by one – Crash! Smash! Ker-chunk!

But she didn’t.

“Would you like -” No. She couldn’t chuck Aunt Sue’s stupid glass coasters into the front yard through the  picture window, but damned if she was going to sit there, politely plying Crystal with iced tea while the woman dissected Liza’s pathetic existence.

Liza stood.

“I should get going,” she said. “So if you don’t mind…”

Crystal gaped up at her for a moment, then shut her perfectly lip-sticked mouth with an audible snap.

“I thought you said you didn’t know…”

“Yes, well.” Liza picked up Crystal’s tumbler. “That doesn’t mean I don’t have things to do and places to go.”

She didn’t – but she wasn’t going to tell her cousin that.

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Running Up With “Schillerplatz”

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So this happened today:

“Hey, Angelika! Congratulations on being a runner-up in the WritersDomain travel writing contest!”

Eeeep, I got a win in another contest!! My winning piece, a 1000-word travel writing story, tells about the Schillerplatz, a plaza in Stuttgart in South-West Germany.

Take a look at the first few lines, and then read the rest of it here!

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“Schillerplatz” by Angelika M. Offenwanger

The last time I saw Schiller, they had put him in a box. Oh, no, not the kind that leaves you six feet under. This one was a skeleton of scaffolding neatly surrounding Herr von Schiller as he stood in all his brazen glory in the square next to the Stiftskirche in Stuttgart. The glory had accumulated too much verdigris and needed a cleaning.

I was disappointed not to be able to see the statue. Obligingly, however, one side of the box had been covered with a giant billboard-like photograph of the statue, so that by standing in the right spot and pointing the camera just so, one could get the illusion of having taken a picture of the Schiller statue in front of the Prinzenbau after all. The only problem was that the billboard photo showed a bright blue sky, whereas on the day we visited the skies were overcast; the illusion in my photo is imperfect.

But in a way, this is in keeping with the rest of the Schillerplatz, where the bronze statue stands surrounded by buildings that seem fantastically ancient. The Old Palace, massive with thick round ivy-covered towers, dates from the Renaissance. The Stiftskirche with its mis-matched spires, the symbol of Stuttgart, has parts going back to the twelfth century. The Fruchtkasten next to it has a magnificent gable that was added in 1596. Or rather, it once had a gable that was added in 1596. What the visitor sees today is the Fruchtkasten as it was rebuilt in the 1950s—as were the Stiftskirche, the Old Palace, and the Prinzenbau and Old Chancellery that flank the remaining two sides of the Schillerplatz. All the buildings around the Schillerplatz burned to the ground in a hail of bombs in 1944.

… keep on reading here

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#FridayFragment: 15.06.2018

Papyrus text: fragment of Hippocratic oath: verso, showing oath. Via Wkimedia Commons.

It spun silently in a circle, glittering with reflected sunlight, gently swaying in the wind. The tree branches rustled softly above it.

Samara stretched out her hand carefully.

“It’s so beautiful!” she whispered. Her finger reached; moved closer and closer to the sparkling crystal dropping from the main orb; made contact.

A glassy tinkling sound, sweet and sharp, filled the air, and the orb flashed up with a myriad pinpricks of rainbow hues.

Samara snatched back her finger.

“I’d be careful with that if I were you,” her brother said drily.

“Yes, well, you aren’t me, are you!” Samara snapped. Her disappointment sat like a bruise in her chest.

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