Captain Comma and the Rise of the Romantic Robots

Hi everyone,

Last year I posted a prologue for a series of stories I wanted to write about Captain Comma and her crew. I’ve finally had time to write the first tale. Since we’ve just been through Valentine’s Day, I decided now was a good time to post it. Enjoy!

Captain Comma

Captain’s Personal Log, Bookdate 021416.

Today I received the details of our new mission from Admiral Apostrophe. Spot and I were in the middle of enjoying our usual romantic Valentine’s Day dinner (cheesy vegetarian lasagna for me, spicy chocolate-flavoured protein cubes for Spot) when we were interrupted by the system notification of our new story destination. It would have to be YA fiction…

 

“You’re kidding me,” said Sergeant Semi-Colon.

We’d materialized in the middle of a stereotypical high school corridor. Institutional grey lockers lined the walls, interrupted occasionally by beige classroom doors with narrow cross-hatched windows designed to keep out the light. The linoleum floors were a speckled white that failed to hide the stains. I could smell the remnants of rotten food, sweat, and desperation.

“Why do they have to make everything so bleak? It’s not like high school is the end of the world. Heck, I survived it just fine.” The Sergeant casually waved around his semi-automatic punctuation gun.

“Easy for you to say,” murmured Ensign Parenthesis. “You weren’t the skinny wimp who got picked on by all the girls.”

“Enough. We’re not here to change the tone, we’re just here to observe and see what sentences need fixing,” I said.

“Well, there doesn’t seem to be anything happening here, Captain,” said the Sergeant. Spot barked her agreement, littering an exclamation mark on the floor. Normally I’d be upset by her failure of protocol, but in this place, it’s not like anyone would notice.

A bell shrilled, and students began to pour out into the hall. Holding out my scanner, I looked for the source of the word disturbance.

“Uh-oh, here they come,” said Ensign Parey.

I looked up to find a group of four girls coming towards us. Although they were dressed in bright colours, their mannerisms were dull and impassive. They moved jerkily down the hall, shuffling their feet as they spoke to each other in monotonous voices.

“Suzy did you hear what happened to Scarlet.”

“No what’s the deal.”

“Well I heard that Brandon was going to ask her to go out with him. But then Jacinda got to him first and told him Scarlet was a horrible witch that nobody liked.”

“Wow that’s harsh.”

“Oh I don’t know. It’s not as if she’s exactly Brandon material.”

“Yeah I hear you.”

“Freeze page,” I commanded. The girls halted steps away from Ensign Parey, who backed away cautiously.

“Well, that was exciting,” said the Sergeant. “Luckily, I know just the thing to spice things up.” He patted the enormous barrel of his gun.

“Sorry, Mico, but I don’t think we’re going to need the heavy guns today. Looks like a classic case of comma failure.”

“I knew you were going to say that.”

“Your time will come,” I promised. I pulled out my punctuation phaser and set it to “Vocative comma.” “Parey, do you recall what the vocative comma is for?” I figured a distraction was in order, since he was looking a little green.

“Um…isn’t that something you use when you’re addressing someone by name?”

“Excellent,” I said, and fired.

“Suzy, did you hear what happened to Scarlet,” said the first girl, and stopped.

“I still think it’s creepy when we do that,” said Parey, who bravely came up to examine her.

“Aw, you get used it,” said Mico. “You just have to remember they’re not actually real.”

While the two of them talked shop, I set my phaser to rapid interjection with yes/no on a comma setting. I didn’t think we needed any exclamation marks. That dialogue was bad enough already.

“No,” “Well,” Wow,” “Oh,” “Yeah,” the girls chimed in.

“That was almost musical, captain,” complimented Mico.

Spot pawed at my polished regulation boots and cocked her head at the teenagers.

“All right, Spot. Go ahead and give them their question marks, so they can come alive.”

Spot barked twice, and we were ready to replay.

“Restart scene,” I commanded.

The girls bounded down the corridor, talking animatedly and gesturing with their hands.

Suzy, did you hear what happened to Scarlet?

“No, what’s the deal?

Well, I heard that Brandon was going to ask her to go out with him. But then Jacinda got to him first and told him Scarlet was a horrible witch that nobody liked.”

“Wow, that’s harsh.”

“Oh, I don’t know. It’s not as if she’s exactly Brandon material.”

“Yeah, I hear you.”

Parey watched them as they continued on down the corridor. “I can’t say I’m going to miss this place. Talk about bad memories.”

“What did you think of high school, Captain?” asked Mico.

“Oh, that’s a story for another day,” I said.

 

Captain’s Personal Log, Bookdate 021516.

Well, the mission was successfully accomplished. It’s been a while since I’ve had to correct interjections. Visiting that YA story made me think about all the drama that I went through in high school. I wonder how Slash is doing now, and if I’ll ever see him again…

***

Thank you to my son for the fabulous illustration.

I hope you enjoyed the first Captain Comma story. Stay tuned for further adventures! And if you have any comments, suggestions for future story topics, or questions about commas, please feel free to post them below. Thanks for reading!

 

© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2016

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Friday Flashback: Attack of the Jargon Gorgon

I’m sorry that things have been quiet here lately — I’ve had a number of projects on the go, and unfortunately there’s been no time to write a blog post. It’s frustrating, because I want to get going with my upcoming series on Captain Comma and her crew. With the holidays coming up, I suspect she’ll be making her debut in the New Year. Stay tuned!

I’ve been slogging my way through a lot of business writing this week, and it made me think of this story I posted back in July 2014. It feels like the right post for a Friday after a long week. I hope you enjoy it!

Attack of the Jargon Gorgon

As he climbed the marble staircase of the Temple of Empowerment, Perceiveus prepared himself to face his greatest foe: Mesnooza, the Jargon Gorgon. Her confusing words had paralyzed many heroes before him. Perceiveus was determined not to make the same mistake.

He reached the top and found Mesnooza waiting for him in the torchlit chamber. He averted his gaze, catching only a glimpse of her glittering eyes. Her features were hidden behind the wall of writhing serpents that gushed from her head like oil-slick tongues. He didn’t need to see the rest of her to know that she was hideous.

Medusa by Caravaggio

“So, your stakeholders have finally sent you to deliver the goods,” said Mesnooza, affecting boredom. “Well, you may have an impressive body of work, but you’re just the flavour of the month to me.”

“We hope you had a game plan before you took on this stretch assignment,” hissed one of her serpent locks.

“You can fire away, but you’ll never be buzzworthy,” pronounced another serpent.

“You think you’re bleeding edge, but you’ve had your heyday,” taunted a third serpent.

Perceiveus ignored the serpent chorus. He circled Mesnooza with caution as her serpents stretched towards him. He flung a dagger at her heart, but she danced away from it.

“I hope you level-set your tiger team, because a win’s not in the cards for you,” sang Mesnooza. Her serpent speakers echoed her.

“It’s time for you to eat a reality sandwich, and stop chasing butterflies.”

“Should have done your due diligence before giving in to blue-sky thinking.”

“Those red flags might have warned you that this was a career-limiting move.”

Perceiveus struggled to concentrate. He grabbed a torch from the wall and thrust it at the nearest serpent. It cried out in pain and went silent. Enraged, a nearby serpent bit his arm, denting his armour. Another serpent whipped him across the face, and he staggered back.

“I don’t think you’re giving this one-hundred-and-ten percent,” snarled Mesnooza, upset by the fiery attack. “Time to go back to the bush league.”

“Feeling hot under the collar?” sneered a serpent. “You’re on a burning platform, and you’re dealing with a bag of snakes.”

“Face it, you’re behind the eight ball. Time to pay the piper.”

“Too many balls in the air. You can’t hack it,” spat another serpent.

Hack it. Sword! In the confusion of battle, Perceiveus had forgotten his primary weapon. He drew his blade and began slicing through his reptilian enemies.

“You might think you’re making an impact, but I’m not low-hanging fruit,” panted Mesnooza, as she dodged his blows. Her serpents were not faring as well. Their voices became weaker as their numbers diminished.

“You might be gaining traction, but you haven’t moved the needle,” one murmured as it went unconscious.

“You think you have your ducks in a row, but we’re playing hardball,” whispered another faintly.

“Time to…think outside the box!” croaked a wounded serpent, before Perceiveus cut its neck clean through.

Mesnooza was exhausted. No one had ever stood up to her power, and she did not know what to do. Her single remaining serpent seemed to realize the game was up.

“Let’s get down to brass tacks and bottom-line it,” said the serpent. “It’s cut and dry that it’s time to put this to bed. Time to fish or cut bai-”

Perceiveus looked up from the serpent’s severed head. “It’s over, Mesnooza.”

But Perceiveus had made the mistake of looking Mesnooza in the eye. Now that she was no longer hidden behind her jargon serpents, Perceiveus could see her true face. She was the most beautiful woman that he had ever beheld.

“I’m sorry I caused you trouble,” she said. “I feel so free now, like a great weight has been lifted from me.”

Perceiveus was stunned into silence.

While Perceiveus stared, Mesnooza slipped away through a side door and escaped from the temple. Who knew that I could stop men in their tracks without my jargon? she thought. Enough of that ugliness. It’s time for me to start a new life. And I’ll create a new name to go with it. Hmmm. I’ve always liked Helen…

***

Image: Medusa by Caravaggio. Source: Wikipedia.

I hope you enjoyed my retelling of Perseus and Medusa. This story was inspired by my difficulties in cutting through jargon in a business environment. What jargon have you heard that brings on your fighting spirit?

 

© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

The Ghouls Have Returned!

Ghouls just wanna have funHappy Hallowe’en, everyone! I hope you are having a ghoulishly good time. I will shortly be shuffling through the streets with my son in search of brains, but before I do, I want to share some frighteningly fantastic news.

My grammar story “Abracadabra! Addressing Affect vs. Effect” has been published in the fall issue of The Ghouls’ Review by Grammar Ghoul Press. If you’re in the mood for creative reading treats so delicious they will pop out your eyeballs (ah, those pesky loose eyeballs), come by and haunt this fiendish site!

(There is also a monstrous picture of me, where you can see what I look like at midnight.)

Ghoulishly yours,

Sue

(Image credit)

Blast From the Past: Back to the Future Tense

In honour of Back to the Future Day, I put the pedal to the metal in my retro DeLorean and went back in time to August 2014. I needed to save my grammar story saga on verb tenses before it faded out of existence.

The Time Traveller’s Verbs

Part 1: Telling Campfire Tales

Part 2: How We Changed the Past

Part 3: To Save Our Future

You just never know when you will unexpectedly travel through time and suddenly need to explain what happened the day before next week. So if you missed this the first time around, you may want to take some notes.

Off to try out my hoverboard now…

Back to the future 2 hoverboard

Image from the movie Back to the Future 2, Universal Studios

A Punctuation Series Prologue

Captain’s Personal Log, Bookdate 091015.

Admiral Apostrophe is at it again. He’s pushing hard for all the stories in his sector to be scanned before the end of the year, so he can confirm there are no prohibited punctuation violations. Sometimes I wonder if he’s completely forgotten about our Prime Directive — to let language evolve according to the needs of the readers.

NASA picture of dying star

It’s going to be a tricky balancing act for our crew. We need to clear away grammatical errors while preserving the writer’s right to choose on matters of style. I suspect I’ll be dictating some creative reports over the next few weeks to satisfy all those prescriptive politicians back home.

At least I have a supportive crew behind me. They believe what I do — that our purpose is to help writers communicate their ideas. We’re not there to defend arbitrary rules in the face of common usage. (But try telling the Admiral that!)

Poor Spot. I think she’s picking up on my agitation as we prepare to head out. She’s been barking exclamation marks and now they’re scattered all over the corridors. It’s a good thing we got those upgraded maintenance bots, or it would be a real mess.

Sergeant Semi-Colon is winking at me and tilting his head to hurry me up, so I’d better close this now. I’ll write again when we get to our first story destination.

Comma out.

 

© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

Attack of the Adverb-Sucking Robot

I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops.

– Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

I can’t count the number of times I’ve read the advice to avoid adverbs when writing. With the way adverbs are vilified, you’d think that inscribing one inevitably causes a writer’s fictional world to collapse.

I read an article last weekend that discussed Stephen King’s take on adverbs and the themes that are raised. It said that writers use adverbs out of fear — fear that their writing will be poor if they don’t use descriptive words.

I think writers are more afraid of being attacked with admonishments about adverbs. They either fear that they have adverbs that weaken their writing, or they fear that removing adverbs in some kind of robotic way will make their writing sound flat.

But you don’t need to be afraid of adverbs — you just need to know when to remove them and why.

Here are three reasons why you might want to remove an adverb:

  1. The adverb is redundant. Having two words that mean the same thing weakens the sentence rather than strengthening it.
  2. The adverb is a useless intensifier like “very” or “really.” These intensifiers are overused and have become meaningless.
  3. The adverb is telling the reader something that should be shown instead. (This relates to another common piece of writing wisdom: “Show, don’t tell.”) The adverb is compensating for something that is missing from the scene. Instead of using an adverb to convey something, it would be better to add in some details that remove the need for an adverb.

To illustrate all this advice, I have written a short story. It’s not all that scary, I promise.

Imagine if someone invented an amazing yet intimidating new writing tool: an adverb-sucking robot.

Attack of the Adverb-Sucking Robot

Adele was at her desk, writing. She saw a shadow creep over her desk and looked up. Not again, she thought.

Adverb Sucking Robot

“Why won’t you just leave me alone? I can’t concentrate with you hovering over me!”

Beep beep beep.

“Okay, so I wrote a few adverbs…big deal! What do you know, anyway?”

BEEEEEEP.

“Fine. I’ll show you adverbs!” Adele scribbled a sentence.

The robot stood menacingly over me.

The dreaded roaring noise began. Adele slammed her hands on the paper as the air was sucked away from her desk. But she knew it was useless. The words now read:

The robot stood over me.

“Now look what you’ve done! This is boring. Where’s that sense of dread I get every time you invade my life? I need to tell them exactly how I feel about you, you tin monstrosity.”

Boop. A brief rush of air ruffled the page.

The robot towered over me.

“Hmmm…okay, I admit that towered is a strong verb. But that’s not saying enough about how I feel. I need to add something…” Adele concentrated, then wrote another sentence.

I was really afraid that the robot would destroy my writing.

“There! Argue with that, you interfering hack. I dare you.”

ROARRR…

I was afraid that the robot would destroy my writing.

“But I’m not afraid! I’m really afraid. I’m…I’m…”

Boop.

I was terrified that the robot would destroy my writing.

“Yes, terrified – that’s it. Because how can you possibly have any good judgment on this? You’re a robot, not a writer…you don’t feel things the way people do. Speaking of which…” Adele wrote another sentence with a flourish. “Witness the truth of your existence.”

The robot unfeelingly sucked away all her adverbs.

Roarrr…

The robot sucked away all her adverbs.

Adele stared at her paper and waited. But nothing happened.

“What, no boop this time?”

Silence.

“Oh, I get it. A robot is obviously unfeeling because it’s a robot, so I don’t need to tell anyone that. It would be redundant.”

Wheeee.

“Why are you making that noise? I must admit that’s an improvement. But I’m confused. Hang on…”

She shook her head confusedly.

“No, wait, don’t say anything —”

Adele scribbled.

She shook her head confusedly.

“We already know I’m confused, right? Because your behaviour is so different from before. So I don’t need an adverb to tell anyone that!”

WHEEEEE.

Adele thought maybe she could get used to that new sound. She looked over her page and realized that her writing did look better.

She smiled happily.

***

Thanks to my wonderful son, who gave me both the idea and the stellar drawing.

What do you think about using adverbs? Do you have words that you watch for, and how do you deal with them? (I sometimes use the Hemingway app to find adverbs in my own writing.)

 

© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

“How to Escape From That Wicked Which” Published in The Ghouls’ Review

Hi everyone,

Disney's Tangled - Horse and Rapunzel smirking at the prince

(Image from Disney’s Tangled)

My grammar story “How to Escape From That Wicked Which” has just been published by Grammar Ghoul Press in the spring edition of The Ghouls’ Review. Editor-in-Chief Suzanne Purkis (who also writes the wonderful blog Apoplectic Apostrophes) has pulled together an entertaining collection of fiction and creative non-fiction for your reading pleasure. Check it out – it’s free!

P.S. For those of you who like to write (or read) short fiction, Grammar Ghoul Press runs weekly micro and flash fiction challenges. Anyone looking for some great writing prompts should swing on by.

 

© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015