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The Gotham Guide to Good Writing

(Warning: contains slash references and plain old silliness)

Part One: Batman and Joker's Sexed Up Guide to Grammar1

Sentences and Clauses:

A sentence or independent clause is a group of related words containing a
subject and a predicate. The subject is the person, place or thing that does the
action. A predicate is the part of a sentence that contains the verb and tells what
the subject is doing or experiencing, or what is being done to the subject.
An independent (main) clause can stand by itself as a sentence. It contains a
subject and a predicate.
The Joker kissed Batman.
[Subject] [Predicate]
If a sentence does not contain both a subject and a predicate, it is not a true
sentence. It is a subordinate clause or dependent clause.

The Semi-Colon (;)

Batman chased the Joker down the alley and when he caught the clown prince of
crime, he pressed him against the wall.
"A semi-colon," he whispered, his breath hot on Joker’s neck, "separates two
independent clauses. Let me show you. I want you; you want me. See? Each
of those is a complete sentence or an independent clause. When used together in a
sentence, they are divided by a semi-colon. Do not--" he said, his eyes narrowing.
"Do not use a comma. That's a comma splice. Comma splices break the laws of
grammar. You know what I do to lawbreakers."
He flexed his bulky muscles. “If you use a comma, you commit a comma splice.
Don't use a comma."

The Apostrophe (')

a) Possession
The apostrophe is used to denote possession:
Joker's lips moved over Batman's bulky muscles. Batman pulled off Joker's
purple suit.

Adapted from Tham’s Sexed Up Guide to Grammar.

b) Contraction
The apostrophe is used to indicate missing letters.
Batman could not wait to kiss Joker’s painted red lips.
The sentence becomes:
Batman couldn't wait to kiss Joker’s painted red lips.
People contract words all the time. We rarely use the two words when
one contraction will do.
Test: If you can insert letters to complete the contraction, it is a true
contraction. If you can't, it is a possessive.

Its vs. It's

Its without the apostrophe is possessive. It's with the apostrophe is a
contraction of it is.
Joker pressed the potato peeler against Batman's neck. Its blade glinted in
the overhead light.
Batman frowned. "Is that a potato peeler?"
"Yes," Joker said. "I love using a potato peeler as a weapon. It's kinky."
Batman's eyes widened.

Your vs. You're

Your is possessive. You’re is a contraction of 'you are':
"Your Batsuit needs to be cleaned," Alfred said in disgust. He threw a
sponge and a bottle of Windex at Bruce. "You can clean it."
"You're kidding, right?"Bruce said, holding the Batsuit away from him.
”That’s why I pay you the big bucks.”

Whose vs Who's
Whose is possessive. Who's is a contraction of who is.
Joker, whose lips were pressed firmly against Batman's neck, shivered
with delight. Batman, who's not afraid of a little romance, threw Joker
against the wall and kissed him.

The Comma (,)
Batman breathed heavily; he was angry. He hated the misuse of commas. He knew that
high school teachers tell students to put a comma where they took a breath, but that is
wrong. “Commas,” he said, “separate elements in a sentence.”
Commas are used:
• To separate independent clauses linked by a coordinating conjunction
such as for, and, or, so, but, nor and yet.
Joker is crazy, but he isn't stupid.
• To set off introductory elements that modifies a word or words in the
main independent clause that follows:
Unfortunately, Joker is also unpredictable.
• To set off non-restrictive elements. (huh? Let Batman explain while he
massages your neck.)
Commas go around an element that is not essential to the meaning of the
Joker's Goons, who live in Gotham, like to hang out in the Narrows.
The element is not essential to the meaning of the sentence – it is just extra
• Commas are used to separate items in a series:
Joker sat at the table and applied white greasepaint to his face, red lipstick to
his mouth, and black kohl around his eyes.
• Commas are also used to separate coordinate adjectives.
Batman is a big, hunky vigilante.
The Colon (:)
The colon is used to introduce a statement that summarizes or explains
what is said in an independent clause.
Joker pulled out his Glock and issued a warning: “Misuse the colon and
I’ll blast you to smithereens.”
A colon is also used before a list of items that are referred to in the main
clause. The items in the list are separated by semi-colons:
Batman told joker that if he really wanted to be his boytoy, he would have
to do three things: brush his teeth; take a bath; and stop wearing that
godawful purple suit.

Punctuating Dialogue:
The comma comes after the last word inside the quotation marks and
before the name of the speaker or the word said.
“Kiss me you big, hunky vigilante,” Joker said.
If there is no dialogue tag (Joker said), but an action, you put a period
after the last word inside the quotation marks.
“Kiss me, you big, hunky vigilante.” Joker grabbed Batman and threw
him against the wall.

The Passive Voice

A key to vibrant prose is use of the active voice, in which the subject of the
sentence does the action using strong verbs.
When writers use the passive voice, the oomph of the sentence drains out.
The Joker was caught by Batman. He was thrown across the room by the
Batman and had his nose broken by his leather-clad fist.
Batman caught the Joker. He threw him across the room and broke his
nose with a leather-clad fist.

A good rule of thumb is to remove all or most of your adverbs. They are a
sign that you are not using a strong verb. It is better to use one strong verb
than a weak verb and adverb.
The Joker moved quickly to Batman and held him tightly in an embrace
The Joker marched to Batman and crushed him in an embrace.
The Ellipsis (…)2
The ellipsis indicates halting speech or an unfinished sentence in dialogue.
An ellipsis consists of three dots ... within a sentence or four dots .... at the

Adapted from The Transitive Vampire.

end of a sentence. More dots do not convey longer pauses, just bad
Batman grimaced. “Your potato peeler is…sticking into my neck….”
A dash can indicate an abrupt change or break in the continuity of a
Batman leered at Joker. “Is that a banana in your pocket or are you just
happy to--“
Joker grabbed Batman and kissed him, shutting him up. “You wanna
know,” he said when he ended the kiss, “ where I got this banana in my

The Exclamation Point (!)

Please don’t use the exclamation point too often.
“Get your ass moving!!!” Joker waved his Glock at the Caped Crusader! “I’ll
give you a head start!!!”
One is enough in dialogue. Never use in the narrative. Your words
should speak for themselves.
“Get your ass moving.” Joker waved his Glock at the Caped Crusader.
“I’ll give you a head start.”
See? You don’t even need one.

Part Two: Common Writerisms to Avoid3

"Burly Detective" Syndrome

Many writers try to avoid using the same word by substituting other descriptions.
For example:
Batman saw Joker almost as soon as he entered the room. The Masked
Vigilante crouched behind a potted plant. “Damn,” the Caped Crusader
said as the Clown Prince of Crime waved at him from across the room.
“He saw me.” When Gotham’s Dark Knight stood up, the Purple-Suited
Clown blew him a kiss.

Instead, use this:

Adapted from The Turkey City Lexicon

Batman saw Joker almost as soon as he entered the room. He crouched
behind a potted plant. “Damn,” Batman said as Joker waved at him from
across the room. “He saw me.” When Batman stood up, Joker blew him
a kiss.
The only time to avoid repeating a word is really unusual words like
"vertiginous." Better to reuse a simple dialogue tag or phrase than to contrive
cumbersome methods of avoiding them.

The ING disease – misuse of the present participle (The What?)

The misuse of the present participle is a common structural sentence-fault for
beginning writers.
Running up the stairs, Joker opened the door and prepared to fight.
Rolling underneath the table, Batman dialled Alfred to ask for help.
Opening the door, Joker ran down the stairs.
Joker can’t run up the stairs and open the door nor can he open the door and run
down the stairs. It’s not possible. He must run up the stairs first, then he can
open the door.
Joker ran up the stairs, opened the door, and prepared to fight.
Batman rolled under the table and dialled Alfred to ask for help.
Joker opened the door and ran down the stairs.
This brings up another issue – try to alter the length and structure of your
sentences so they are not all the same but try to match the length and tone of your
sentence to the purpose of the scene or sequel.
Keep short sentences during action scenes. Use longer sentences during sequels,
where introspection or reaction to a scene is taking place. Do not use too many
long sentences one after the other or your reader will tire.

"Said" Bookisms and Tom Swiftys

Many beginning writers (and a few experienced ones) try to avoid using the word
“said” in dialogue under the mistaken belief that it makes the story more
interesting and so they substitute much more interesting verbs for said.
It is best to use ‘said” when you need to attribute dialogue to some speaker rather
than use other verbs and adverbs, and better yet, try to avoid speaker tags
completely when possible.

Bad: “Down on the floor!” Joker commanded loudly and waved his gun in the

Better: “Down on the floor!” Joker said and waved his gun in the air.

Best: Joker waved his gun in the air. “Down on the floor!”

The Tom Swifty:

Sometimes, inexperienced or misinformed writers add in adverbs in order to
indicate how the line should be said. This can become the almost laughable Tom

“We must run,” Tom said swiftly.

The Double Whammy: Said Bookisms mixed with Tom Swiftys:

“Kiss me,” Batman crooned singingly.
“No,” Joker retorted impudently.
“Yes, you must,” Batman implied loudly.
“Never!” Joker rejoined angrily.
“Please,” Batman begged pleadingly.
“Ok,” Joker agreed happily.
“Harder!” Batman growled lustily.
“I’m coming,” Joker ejaculated wetly.
“Unghh,” Batman croaked.

Said is one of the words in dialogue that virtually disappears from the reader’s
view. Use it. Better yet, try to use dialogue and action instead of ‘said’ and
adverbs when you can. Better yet, kill the adverb. It deserves to die.
Batman pushed Joker against the wall. “Kiss me.”
“No.” Joker turned his face away.
“Yes,” Batman said. “You must.”
Joker spat in Batman’s face. “I wouldn’t kiss you if you were the last bat
in Gotham.”
“OK.” Joker kissed him.

All those fancy verbs instead of said and adverbial directions are distracting. It’s
called “purple prose” and is to be avoided at all costs.

Show don’t tell

One of the rules of writing is to show not tell. Here is an example of telling:
Batman was angry as he watched Joker sitting in the holding tank at the
Gotham MCU. He hated Joker. He wanted to kill him.
Here is an example of showing:
Batman’s fists clenched as he watched Joker sitting in the holding tank at
the Gotham MCU. He grabbed Joker by the hair and wrenched his head
back. “Give me one reason why I shouldn’t kill you, you evil
The second passage is far more active and reveals Batman in a way that lets the
reader see the scene more clearly.
Note: you can’t show everything. Sometimes, you have to tell. Sometimes you
want to tell. It depends on the purpose of the scene. This is a judgement call, but
you should try to show to make your prose more exciting and tell when it is
necessary to delve deep into a character’s motivation or move the story along.
Joker had loved knives since he was a small boy and received one for his
tenth birthday. As he waited for the driver to pick him up, he twirled the
switchblade in his hand and thought about the first knife he had ever
owned – a beauty with an amethyst hilt and a blade so sharp he cut his
own finger the first time he used it.

Here, the writer is telling the reader that Joker loves knives, but that’s OK for this
is part of a scene meant to divulge a bit about Joker’s past so telling is OK. If you
only tell and don’t show, your prose will be lifeless and your reader bored.

Countersinking is a subtle form of telling not showing in which the action clearly
implied in dialogue is made explicit.
"Let's get out of here,” he said, urging her to leave.
The “urging her to leave” is redundant since the dialogue already indicates the
intent of the speaker.

White Room Syndrome
This is when the writer fails to provide concrete sensory details in the story so that
the reader has no idea what the setting looks like.
When you provide your reader with concrete sensory details – sight, smells,
sounds, textures, tastes, you ground your reader in the scene and it becomes real
to them.
Batman ran down the alley and went through an open door into a building
and saw a man in the corner. He grabbed the man and threw him onto a
“Where is he?”
Contrast the spare non-descript paragraph to the following”
Batman ran down the narrow alley, dodging overflowing trash cans,
splashing through puddles from a recent rain. The stench of urine and
days-old garbage assaulted his senses. He threw open a heavy wooden
door with a broken lock and entered the cool darkness of the old
brownstone warehouse. An older man with tattered clothing and filthy
dreadlocks huddled in the shadows. Batman grabbed him by the neck and
threw him onto a rickety aluminium table.
“Where is he?”

Viewpoint glitch / Head Hopping

Generally, the modern convention is to stick to one point of view per scene or
chapter. An inexperienced author may sometimes head-hop from one character to
another. This is inadvisable because it is possible to lose track of whose point of
view we are supposed to be in.
Batman glanced at Joker, who sat on a bench in the holding cell and
thought he was kinda cute underneath the makeup. Joker eyed Batman,
wondering if he’d be a nice kisser. Batman stepped closer, hoping Joker
would flinch. Joker laughed, amused at Batman’s impudence.

Choose one character to use for the scene and stick to only what they can see and
know. In the paragraph above, Batman should be the Point of View character, but
it is not clear who is really the POV character since we hop from head to head.