Wednesday, January 04, 2017

IWSG: Crazy Writing Rules

It's the first Wednesday of the month, which means hundreds of us will be posting about our insecurities. If you haven't yet, join in. You'll be glad you did!

Each month we have a question. This month's question is:

What writing rule do you wish you’d never heard?

This month's question is actually an easy one to answer. It goes all the way back to high school--to a rule many people still steadfastly follow today. The rule?

But, and, so... The rules say we can't start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction. It's as bad as ending a sentence with a prepositional phrase. At one time, writing was more formal, making it normal to start sentences with words like however and therefore. Now that sort of writing sounds...well...stiff and off-putting.

You want to engage readers, not make them feel like they're working on their required reading for class. And guess what?

Or, as the Chicago Manual of Style puts it: "There is a widespread belief—one with no historical or grammatical foundation—that it is an error to begin a sentence with a conjunction such as and, but or so. In fact, a substantial percentage (often as many as 10 percent) of the sentences in first-rate writing begin with conjunctions. It has been so for centuries, and even the most conservative grammarians have followed this practice."

When you write for five to ten different editors/clients on a daily basis, it can get to you, though. I had one publication editor who was old school. I was disallowed from ever starting a sentence with a conjunction, ending a sentence with a prepositional phrase, or ever, EVER using a "to be" verb.

An entire 500-word article without the words is or are? Try it. It's harder than you think! Even that rule shouldn't be followed strictly, though. It's designed to keep you from writing passive sentences, but not every use of a "to be" verb is passive. When I was writing for that editor, I found myself questioning every is I typed!

Some of the rules you learned in school may not be hard-and-fast rules anymore. It's important to look into it! The most important thing is that you don't start every sentence with a conjunction. That would get annoying!

But there IS one rule I can get behind:

If you subscribe to Writer's Digest, look for my article in the February issue:

Monday, January 02, 2017

Mystery Monday: The McStay Family

It's Monday, which means it's time for another...

Every Monday, I'm presenting a new mystery. Some have been solved...some remain unsolved to this day. 

Children disappear. Women disappear. Men even disappear sometimes. But when an entire family disappears, it can be a real mystery.

The McStay family wasn't unlike so many other families in this country. The dad, Joseph, owned a successful custom waterfall business.

His wife, Summer, dedicated her time to raising their two children.

On February 9, 2010, Joseph's business partner, Chase Merritt, called his brother to tell him he hadn't heard from Joseph in five days. After trying to get in touch and failing, the family notified the police, who entered the home.

The house was empty. It looked as though the family had left suddenly. There were two bowls of popcorn on a futon in front of the TV and raw eggs on the kitchen counter.

The last time anyone heard from the McStay family was February 4th. The police tracked down a neighbor's surveillance camera and found that at 7:47 pm, the family's SUV pulled out of the driveway and drove off. No other cars were around. It never returned. The police tracked the vehicle to a tow yard in San Diego. It had been towed from a parking lot near the border.

For a while, the police were sure the McStays had crossed the border on foot. They had this footage from cameras at the border on the night the family disappeared:

Unfortunately, the family isn't living a new life in Mexico. On November 11, 2013, a motorcyclist found the remains of the McStay family in the desert near Victorville, California. McStay's business partner, Chase Merritt, was arrested for the murders.

Chase was the one who initially called Joseph's brother to say he hadn't heard from him in five days. The trial brought out gruesome details about the McStays' final moments that I won't post here. You can click if you want to read more. It appears money was the motive. Police think the family was killed in the home and transported to the desert. The house was being painted at the time, so the killer could have easily covered any blood spatter.

Four crosses were erected at the spot in the desert where the remains were found.

This story was initially one of many unsolved mysteries that captivated me. The fact that it had such a devastating ending reminds me that often we're better off not knowing the truth.