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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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)

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

Rogue Words from A to Z: Zeroing In on Zombies

A to Z Letter ZThis is the final post in this month’s Rogue Words series. I’ve had a lot of fun doing these, and I’m sorry to see them go. In fact, I’m thinking about making them a regular feature of my blog. If you have an opinion on whether you’d like me to round up more rogue words in the future, please feel free to leave a comment!

And now, on to today’s word…the deceptively simple-looking zero.

Zero can be used as an adjective, a verb, or a noun.

Zero As an Adjective

When zero is used as an adjective (which is rare), the noun it describes must be plural (or be a non-countable noun, like awareness).

Zachary charged through the door of Professor Z’s office, dragging a girl with him. “Something’s really wrong with Zoe, Professor! I had zero ideas about what to do, so I brought her to you. Can you help?”

Zoe stood where Zachary had left her, in front of Professor Z’s desk. Her hair was scraggly and her face had a grey tinge. She stared at the Professor blankly. It was clear that she had zero awareness of what was going on.

Zero As a Verb

When zero is used as a verb, you sometimes (but not always) need to add an e. Forms of the verb zero include zero, zeroes, zeroed, and zeroing.

“Hmmm,” said Professor Z in her reassuring way. She walked around Zoe, studying her from all angles. Zoe didn’t react at all, even when the Professor poked her in the arm.

“I said to myself, Professor Z is someone who always zeroes in on the problem,” said Zachary. He bounced from foot to foot. “I’ve been thinking…do you think Zoe’s turning into a zombie? That would be so zany, but I’m not sure what else to think!”

“Do you see this?” the Professor asked Zachary. She pointed at Zoe’s watch. Zachary bent to look.

Zero As a Noun

When zero is used a third-person verb, you write it as zeroes. But when zero is used as a plural noun, you don’t use an e: it’s spelled zeros.

The watch was set on a timer, and it was counting down to zero. Only five seconds to go…

“Oh no! In five…no, four seconds, she’s going to turn into a zombie! I knew it!”

“I don’t think so,” said Professor Z.

The time counted down until there were only zeros: 00:00:00. The watch started beeping.

 Zoe stirred and blinked. “It’s done? I’m all finished?”

“Yes, dear,” said the Professor gently. You can go to bed now.” Zoe shuffled out of the room.

Zachary stared after her. “What was that about?”

“Just as I suspected,” said the Professor. “It’s now May first. The A to Z Blogging Challenge is over, and Zoe can finally get some sleep.”

***

Congratulations to everyone who made it through the A to Z Challenge! Thanks so much for reading, liking, and commenting on my posts. 🙂

For those who are new to my blog, I hope you will continue to visit after A to Z. I will be posting my A to Z Reflections post next Monday, and then will go back to my usual weekly posting schedule. I post a mix of creative writing and grammar tips, interviews with others about communication (Conversation Corner), and in-depth reviews of writing resources (DBW Reviews).

See you on the other side! Off now to get some sleep…

 

© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

Rogue Words from A to Z: You’re Not a Yutz

A to Z Letter YDo you feel like a yutz when you have to decide between using your or you’re?

You’re not alone.

There’s a good reason why we struggle with when to use you’re. This word violates all our expectations.

Normally an apostrophe is used to show that someone possesses something, as in “Sue’s yo-yo.”

But if you want to write “your yo-yo,” you need to use the word your without an apostrophe.

You’re with an apostrophe is only used when “you are” is being contracted into one word.

The same rule applies to their / they’re and its / it’s. If you’d like more on these words, you may want to check out my grammar story Night of the Apostrophe Ninja.

To demonstrate this apostrophe rule, here’s a very short story.

Your vs. You’re – Who Will Win the Lady’s Heart?

In days of yore, two knights stood before the Queen, yammering about their quest to slay the yellow yeti.

Your Majesty,” said the older knight, “I regret to report that we were unable to fulfill your desire. The beast is still alive.”

“What beast?” asked the Queen, bewildered.

We?” protested the younger knight. “You’re the one who decided it was a good idea to wake the yeti up by challenging it, instead of sneaking up and chopping off its head.”

The Queen flinched. Then her cheeks blossomed in anger. “How dare you-”

“Look how you have offended Her Majesty by your violation of the Knight’s Code of Conduct!” remonstrated the older knight. “You have constantly demonstrated your ignorance of our traditions.” He turned to the Queen, who was clearly in a rage. “Your Majesty, I protest. Your young ‘champion’ is hotheaded and will not listen to reason.”

“Listen to reason? You’re the one who never listens! You’re too busy living in the past, and now we’re stuck with that yeti.”

You’re the ones who are not listening,” yelled the Queen. “How dare you interrupt me!”

The two knights were immediately silent.

“We gave no command to attack the yellow yeti. Clearly you have been blinded by your pride. We hereby strip you of your titles until you’re willing to act like the knights you should be.”

The former knights slunk away, shamefaced.

After they had left the chamber, the Queen’s form shimmered, and in her place was a yellow yeti.

“Well, that was close,” said the yeti. “Good thing my knights are a bunch of incompetent yahoos, or I would never have heard the end of it from my sisters.”

***

I can’t believe I’m coming up to the last A to Z post! Stay tuned for the final episode tomorrow, where I will zap the zombified letter Z…

 

© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

Rogue Words From A to Z: X-Ray Vision Won’t Help You Now

A to Z Letter XX-ray is an exasperating word because there is a lot of disagreement over how to spell it. Should it have a hyphen? Should the X be capitalized? Is it X-ray, x-ray, X ray, or x ray? All of these variations have been used.

Some people will tell you that X-ray should be hyphenated when it’s used as an adjective (as in X-ray vision or x-ray vision) and not hyphenated when it’s a noun (as in getting an X ray or an x ray). Sounds complicated. No wonder people are confused!

My advice to you is to follow the generally accepted style rule for words that have a letter as a prefix: Capitalize the letter and hyphenate the word (X-ray). You can’t go wrong with this, because it’s consistent with other words in this category (T-shirt). It’s also described as the most common style in Garner’s Modern American Usage.

Crookes X-ray tube

And now…as I’m sure you have come to expect, I have written you a story to help illustrate this rule. And since we’ve been talking about X-ray vision…

Extra-Special Man was doing his usual flyby over the city when his extra-sensitive hearing caught the sound of maniacal laughter somewhere behind him.

That sounds like someone who is about to execute an evil plan, he thought, and did a U-turn in the air. As he neared the extra-large building that was the source of the sound, he used his X-ray vision to examine the top floor.

He spotted a large shape that was radiating the energy of an A-bomb. Alarmed, he crashed through the nearest window, only to be blinded by the sight of a man with an electric blue mustache wearing a neon pink-and-yellow striped suit and a lime green top hat.

“I should have known it was you, Fashion Nightmare,” said Extra-Special Man. “What exasperating action are you up to this time?”

“Ah, Extra-Special Man! I am happy that an A-list superhero has come to witness my exciting triumph. I have finally completed my V-gun, and it is time to unleash it on this city.”

“A V-gun?” asked Extra-Special Man. “What does it do, exactly?”

“I’m glad you asked. After I press this extra-small button, the entire city will be wearing one of these!” He brandished a scratchy woolen V-neck sweater with a garish picture of a purple moose on it. “It’s my own exclusive design,” he said proudly.

“You can’t force the people of this city to wear that ugly sweater. That would be un-American.”

“This coming from someone who wears tights? And why do you care?” asked Fashion Nightmare. “After all, you’re an alien from Xenon.”

“Well, that was rather xenophobic of you,” said Extra-Special Man, miffed.

“Besides, you’re too late,” said Fashion Nightmare, and pressed the extra-small button.

The V-gun sputtered and exploded, enveloping Fashion Nightmare in a haze of yellow light. When it cleared, Fashion Nightmare’s clothing looked somewhat different.

“A white T-shirt and blue jeans!” he exclaimed in horror. “How exceedingly banal! I can’t possibly wear this!” He tried to rip the shirt off, but it wouldn’t budge. “Someone get this off of me!” He started whimpering.

“Well, I hope you learned your lesson,” said Extra-Special Man. “Exulting in the extreme exercising of evil deeds only leads to execrable results.” He paused. “And there’s nothing wrong with my tights!”

***

Image of the Crookes X-ray tube from Wikimedia Commons

This post is dedicated to my copy editing instructor, who taught me how to deal with the complexities of hyphens.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, where I will yell about the yellow-bellied letter Y…

 

© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

Rogue Words from A to Z: If Wishes Were Wanting…

A to Z Letter WOne of my readers suggested that I write about when to use were with a singular subject (heard in the classic song from Fiddler on the Roof: “If I were a rich man…”). Why don’t we sing, “If I was a rich man?”

The short answer: “If I were a rich man” is written in the subjunctive verb mood. What on earth is that? I wrote the long answer to that question many moons ago, when I first started blogging. Hardly any of my readers have seen that post, since it’s back from the times when my readers were mostly crickets.

So I figured it was time to bring this out again and answer my reader’s question. I hope you enjoy it!

If Wishes Had Genies…

Verbs have moods, just like genies do. And we all know you need to pay attention to someone’s mood if you want to get your wish. (“Can I have a cookie, Mom? Pleeease?” Oh, no, it’s not working! Time for the cute face. “I love you.”)

Disney’s Aladdin shows us all about moods and how we can stay on the good side of verbs. The film’s characters use the three verb moods: indicative, imperative, and subjunctive. Let’s see how each mood can affect your chances of getting your wish.

Indicative Mood

We use the indicative mood most of the time. This verb mood is good for stating facts, making requests, or asking questions. Aladdin uses this mood when he says, “Genie, I wish for you to make me a prince.” The verb in this sentence is wish. This is a simple request, and Genie is happy to lend a hand:

Disney's Aladdin and Genie shaking hands

You’ve got a deal!

Imperative Mood

We use the imperative mood for commands. Our story’s villain, Jafar, is fond of using the imperative mood. After he steals the lamp, he commands: “Genie, grant me my first wish.” Here, the verb is grant. Jafar could have said, “I would like you to grant me my first wish,” which would have been more polite (and indicative). But no. And guess what happens when you use the imperative mood on a genie?

Genie cheering for Jafar in Aladdin

Can you tell I’m motivated?

Subjunctive Mood

This final verb mood is the trickiest. We use the subjunctive mood for unlikely possibilities, things that are not true, and (you guessed it) wishes. You often find the subjunctive mood hanging around with the word if. Aladdin uses the subjunctive when he protects children from being whipped by a rude prince. He says, “Hey, if I were as rich as you, I could afford some manners!”

We can tell this is the subjunctive mood because Aladdin says I were. This can sound strange to our ears, because normally people say I was. With the subjunctive, however, the verb form were is always used (if I were, if you were, if he were, if she were…).

So why is this verb mood important? It tells us that Aladdin thinks he will never be rich. After all, he doesn’t have a genie to help him with that…yet.

Disney's Aladdin on manners of the rich

If only I had a genie…

Once Aladdin finds Genie, he never uses the subjunctive mood again. Why? Because he knows that his wishes will come true. They are no longer unlikely to happen. So, unlike the rest of us, he doesn’t need to think about when to use the subjunctive mood.

After talking about this, now I really want a genie. I’m sure it would improve my mood. Imagine the possibilities…

***

Images from Disney’s Aladdin

This post is dedicated to my loyal readers from the beginning blog times who are still with me. I hope you enjoyed this blast from the past!

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s (new) post, where I will eXamine the xenophobic letter X…