Sidewalks?

Why are people walking in the road when there is a perfectly good sidewalk?

No, this is not a rhetorical question.

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I see this all the time.  Just the other night, a man in dark colors was walking his dog on the road. Three feet next to him was a perfectly good sidewalk. A sidewalk we’re all required to shovel and otherwise maintain. Only reason I saw him was his the white on his black and white dog.

I know, I know, in the frozen tundra, sometimes not everyone clears off their sidewalk perfectly. But climate change has seen us with the warmest February on record! March has been much the same. There was literally no snow anywhere. So why would you risk walking on the road, during rush hour, rather than on the sidewalk?

Or, if you really hate the sidewalks, why not go to the dog park that’s a mile away? Or, the park that’s at the end of the block?

I’ve heard it said if you’re training for a marathon or 10k and taking it very seriously, roads are smoother and less prone to cracks. Except, of course, for the cars on them. Which, at an average of 4,000 pounds or so, seems like a perfectly safe thing to challenge. Because tired drivers coming home after dark during rush hour are always able to see you in your dark clothes and quickly respond. Especially if you slip, lose your footing, or trip on a rock.

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There is one gentleman that runs in our neighborhood who is a serious marathoner. He runs here because we have A LOT of hills, many that are very steep. He wears a lighted vest that flashes on both the front and the back. Very easy to see. I appreciate that.

Still wish he wasn’t on the road, but I can easily see and avoid him.

Not sure why others aren’t using the special trails by us dedicated to bicycles and pedestrians. We have parks. We have waterfronts. Why the street? Can’t be the view, certainly.

Look, I know walkers and cyclists are supposed to have equal rights. I know that some are very dedicated to their sports and want to train.

I’ve often wondered if they know just how dangerous it is to ride in traffic without a bike lane. Maybe even with a bike lane. Especially with impatient drivers that want to get around you when you can’t do the speed limit.

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This may be an unpopular thing to say, but I’m not entirely sure why it is okay to ride a bike or walk on any road with a speed limit above 25 MPH.  It seems like a disaster waiting to happen at the worst, or a traffic jam at the best.

Yes, yes, I know. Not very environmentally friendly of me. Or very sharing. But honestly,  sharing the street with others who are not in a car scares the living daylights out of me. I’m terrified I might hit them, and that would be on my conscience for the rest of my life. And, of course, I get frustrated when I have to do 15 MPH because I got stuck behind a bike in a 40 MPH zone.

Yes, I am trying to be more empathetic, but this isn’t about just me and the cyclist. This is about me, the cyclist, and the six people now lined up behind me all angry as they try swerve around me to get to work.

Maybe I’m more worried than the average driver about trying to get around a cyclist or pedestrian. My mother’s friend buried her nineteen-year-old daughter two years ago. See, the woman’s college cycling team was riding down a state road when she and two other members of her team were hit by a mid-sized truck.

None of them survived.

Her father happened to be assisting the coach of the team, and he watched his daughter die. He hasn’t been the same.

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The truck driver was fine, and the accident did little more than scratch the paint on his vehicle. Maybe, because of this, I’ve over-exaggerated the danger in my mind. Maybe not.

I’m glad that people are outside and improving their fitness. What I don’t understand is why anyone would want to be on the road with a 4,000 pound car unless they were in one, too.

 

How about you? Do you ever cycle or walk in the street rather than the sidewalk? Why? Perhaps you’ve seen this phenomena and have more insight into it than I do, especially those walking in the street.

10 Steps to Younger Skin

I came across an advertisement like this, and I’m not really sure how this is even allowed. I mean, no matter what I do, I am going to have the skin of a woman who needs yearly mammograms. I could do 10 steps, 20 steps, 100 steps, and my skin will not go back in time.

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And frankly, why should I want it to? Why does my skin need to look younger than it is?

To be attractive. To be beautiful. To be desired.

To be loved.

There is the reason. The real reason I’m supposed to want younger skin. I feel like I’m inundated with messages constantly telling me I’m not “good enough” to be loved. I’m not pretty enough, thin enough, rich enough. I’m just not enough.  So I must buy their product to look better, to be thin, or to appear rich. Their product will help make me enough.

Of course, that’s complete crap.

But if they can convince us to believe it, they have a market for life. A market that won’t be terribly sensitive to price.

Makes me wonder if this is part of what feeds the escapism some of us find in romance novels. In these stories, however old you are, whatever you look like, it’s always enough.

Outside of our fiction, advertisers are doing whatever they can to make us feel we need their product. Most likely because what they’re selling isn’t chocolate cake. Rather, their wares are something we don’t want or need intrinsically so they must create a market for it.

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And create a market they did. While there was almost no cosmetics industry in the early 1900s, the global cosmetics market was worth $460 billion in 2014   Let me show you that with the zeros:  $460,000,000,000. A year.   By 2020, it’s estimated to be a $675,000,000,000 market.

I want you to think about that for a moment.

California’s state budget is $171 Billion.

Okay, so bigger than the entire state of California’s budget. Not just bigger. More than twice as big.

I did some looking, and the cosmetics industry is scheduled to surpass US military spending of $598 Billion.

Could you even imagine if we spent that much money on anything else? What would the budget be to colonize Mars? To end global hunger?

Perhaps I see it this was because I have nothing vested in cosmetics. I don’t “put” on my face every day. You see, I have a strong allergy to most cosmetics. You don’t really want to know what’s in most of them. Even Web MD has warnings.

I can only use dye-free, scent-free products. The dye is an issue, but the scent in most products causes me huge issues. Given what cosmetics are made of, the makers have to use scent to cover it or no woman would put it on her skin.

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I used a bunch of different products, desperately trying to find eye make-up that didn’t make my eyes swell. Or foundation that didn’t make my skin red and itchy. Or lipstick that didn’t my lips hurt and make them swell. It didn’t matter if it was L’Oréal, Clinique, or Channel. Nothing played nice with my skin.

One afternoon many years ago, my soon-to-be-husband asked me if I needed to wear it at all. He told me I looked exactly the same with it as I did without, and besides, he hated wearing my lipstick if he kissed me.

That was the last day I ever wore make-up. I threw it all away, bought some dye-free, scent-free lotion that my dermatologist had recommended, and I never looked back. Do I sometimes miss making my long but fair lashes look dark? Yes. Do I miss my eyes swelling, or getting red and angry? Nope.

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About what my eye and the skin around it looked like after a bad reaction. 

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve changed the lotion I use, but it’s still dye and scent free. And my skin never reacts poorly to it. This says a lot because my skin reacts poorly to a lot of things, including the soap in public bathrooms. I have to carry hand-sanitizer in my purse or risk soap getting caught in my wedding ring and making my finger swell too large for the ring.

Abstaining from cosmetics hasn’t meant perfect skin, and I do get a bit of redness or an occasional breakout, but I stick with a gentle cleansing routine and lotion and it clears up pretty quickly.

I’ve seen other women who struggle with their skin and use cosmetics to combat it. I’ve often wondered if wearing makeup has actually made the skin issues worse for them, forcing them to buy yet more products.

Interestingly, science says my inner skeptic is in on to something . Yes, there is evidence that cosmetics are not good for your skin, which can lead to needing more products. Of course, there is no cosmetic company willing to fund such a study. Or, if they have, they haven’t released the results. So there’s only a handful of research out there.

But, there is also a such a thing as withdrawal from makeup. Because of course there is. You get customers to buy something they don’t need, and it has addictive side effects that include the release of testosterone when you quit using their products. This testosterone spike causes more skin issues, so you go back to using their products.

This isn’t growing into a $675 billion dollar a year industry because people need lipstick. They’ve made us want their product,  but it isn’t an innate want.It’s a manufactured one, and they’re going to make it hard to quit them if you ever choose that route.

Not condemning wearing make-up. You do you. Heck, I was so into the stuff at one point that I suffered elephant eyes to wear it. I miss mascara the most. I’ve got long lashes, but they’re fair. Really miss the mascara.

We all make choices and get to decide how to spend our hard earned money, but perhaps it’s something to think about before buying your next tube of lipstick or bottle of mascara. Remember, even in the early 1900s, make-up wasn’t popular and was mostly used by prostitutes. War paint indeed.

The rise of make-up came right along with the rise of advertising so they could make us want it.

Whatever you choose, it’s never unwise to take a moment to think about why we do what we do. To make sure it’s our choice, and we’re really doing what we think is best for us rather than what an advertiser may think is best.

Looking at you, commercials.

 

How about you? Ever get sucked into a product because of an advertisement? Do you regret it? Or maybe you came to love the product?

 

“Us” vs “Them”

We see this a lot. Us versus Them.

It’s “your” team versus whomever they are playing. It’s the Rebellion versus the Empire. Democrats versus republicans. Geeks versus jocks.

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This was so my “in” group. C’mon DPS.

Pick your “in” group, and you’ll automatically have an “out” group. It’s everywhere, and once you side with a team, you will automatically favor them even if the evidence doesn’t agree with you.

This is called Social Identity Theory, and humans do it all the time. Once we identify with a group, once it becomes ours, a part of ourselves becomes intertwined with the success of that group.

Think how many times you’ve seen a sports fan became angry over how “their” team played. Now, if you actually owned the sports team, you’d have a lot riding on their success. But most of the people I know who are invested in “their” team don’t even have a bet riding on the outcome.

I’ve even heard fans make disparaging comments about fans of other teams. What would make an otherwise rational person hate someone else just for the team they support?

Social Identity Theory says this is actually pretty common. Once you identify with a group making it the “in” group, humans will discriminate against and disparage the “out” group as a means of making themselves feel better about the group to which they are associated.

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This is some pretty powerful stuff. Wikipedia links to a series of studies, one that shows people aren’t even willing to bet against their “in” group even though it could mean that they make money doing so.

There is some thought that this was an evolutionary response. Those that favored their own tribes to the exclusion of all others were more successful, had more children, etc. Hard to prove, but a reasonable theory.

Interestingly, though, humans are actually more successful the larger we make the “in” group. The research corroborates what Adam Smith said in The Wealth of Nations that human prosperity is dependent on the voluntary exchange between and co-operation of different nationalities and races.

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It’s an interesting dichotomy. On the one hand, research shows us that Social Identity Theory tells makes us want to favor “our” group, yet other research shows us that this is not necessarily what makes us the most prosperous.

Sadly, this isn’t fiction. If it were, I’d get a note from my beta reader telling me about the inconsistency of my character, and how his actions didn’t align with his goal. I’d fix it, and all would be well.

Not that easy in the real world, even if does explain a lot things we see happening around us.

But, perhaps it gives us some insight into making a character that our audience will identify with. Give them someone that’s in their “in” group so that they’ll want to see them succeed even if he is a whiny farm kid more interested in racing speeders with his friends than tending to the droids on his aunt and uncle’s farm.

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How about you? Ever read about a character you could identify with and wanted to see them succeed no matter what? Or maybe you have a sports team you love no matter what? Or maybe you found yourself in one “tribe” when you wanted to be in another?

 

 

How We Can Have Social Security

This is a writer’s blog, but after we learned about a job loss in our household, I started researching some things.

In the process of this, I learned something I feel compelled to share. Maybe everyone already knows this and what it means, but if there’s anyone out there that this enlightens or convinces them to call their representatives, then it was worth posting.

In the United States, Social Security is used to pay out benefits once you retire. I’ve been paying into the system for almost 25 years with the government constantly telling me that there would be little-to-no money left for me by the time I retire. I’ve grumbled about it, but as Social Security is the only way my grandmother survives, I rationalized it to myself that I was paying for her benefits.

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Then, I learned something that not only surprised me, but made me angry.  Americans only pay social security tax on the first $118,500 they make in a year. Don’t believe me, here are the facts from the US Government, and they don’t joke about paying your taxes.

So what, you say? Doesn’t really matter. Most people don’t make that much money.

Except for the few that do, it matters to all of us. Let’s walk through it to show you what I mean.

The median family income in 2015 was $55,775. Those people paid ~ $3,500 in social security taxes or 6.2% of their income. That means 100 middle class families paid in $350,000 or 6.2% of their income.

The 100 highest paid CEOs made $3,039,053,167  (and no, I didn’t accidentally add an extra 3 digits). These 100 CEOs paid in $737,700 to social security or 0.02%.

If those 100 CEOs would have paid tax at the same rate as the median American family, they would have contributed $188,421,296.   You know, over $187 million dollars more in one year.

And that’s just looking at the top 100 CEOs.

What I don’t understand is why. So, I sent the letter below to my senators and representative.  If you you’d like to copy my letter and send it to your congress people, here is where you find them:  House of Representatives  Senators 

Interestingly, within minutes, I received an e-mail reply with a standard form letter. Not at all what I wanted.

Ah, more research!!  Turns out, almost all members of the House and Senate don’t even bother to look at e-mails. They have a script that picks out key words and sends a standard e-mail in return.

So, I did more research on how to get them to listen to me.

Don’t bother writing a letter, posting on Facebook, or any other social media.

Best way to get their attention is for you and as many people as you can possible find with the same concerns as you show up at one of their town halls. Yeah.  This is the only way you will ever talk to your representative instead of one of his staffers. The only way.

Second best way is to pick up a phone and call. The research I’ve done says to call their state office rather than their office in Washington DC. A phone call requires them to talk to you. If you can get a lot of people to call about the same issue, you can bet the staffers answering the phones all day are going to be telling their boss.

So, even if you don’t care about social security, hopefully this will help you with an issue you do care about.

 

Dear Senator,

I’ve had a contract with the US Government since I was sixteen. You collected Social Security taxes from my check, and when I was 65, I would retire and collect benefits.

But there isn’t enough money, so you pushed back my retirement age.

There still isn’t enough money, and now I’m told to plan for a significant reduction in my benefits without any reduction in my taxes. I accepted it. Social Security is the only way my grandmother survives, so I rationalized it as paying for her benefits.

Then, I learned something that not only surprised me, but the more I thought about it, made me very upset.  Americans only pay social security tax on the first $118,500 they make in a year. Here’s what that means:

  • The median family income in 2015 was $55,775

o  Those people paid ~ $3,500 in social security taxes or 6.2% of their income.

o   That means 100 middle class families paid in $350,000 or 6.2% of their                                         income.

o   These 100 CEOs paid in $737,700 to social security or 0.02% of their income.

 

If those 100 CEOs would have paid tax at the same rate as the median American family, they would have contributed $188 million dollars to social security.  That’s $187 million dollars more than what they did pay in a single year. And that’s just looking at the top 100 CEOs.

I thought you might already be trying to fix this, but I couldn’t find any bills currently under consideration to make the Social Security tax applicable to everyone.

What I need you to explain to me is why there isn’t a bill out there to fix this.  Why you expect my family to pay 6.2% of our income for benefits we’ll never receive, but not all Americans are paying this. Especially as the numbers are telling me that if we taxed everyone equally, you could live up to the agreement you made to me when I was sixteen.

Regards,

Elizabeth Rose

Registered Voter

Top 5 Reasons Science Says Why We Lack Patience

Throughout life, we’re told to be patient. It’s a virtue, after all.

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Patience is especially touted for authors when what we want to get paid to tell stories. Instead, we must be patient and:

  • Write book after book, without any promise of being published or paid. But be patient as you have to write a lot to get better, and it takes a large backlist before (read if) you can quit your day job.
  • Commit to social media to increase your presence, but be patient as you have to invest a lot of time before you see any rewards.
  • Commit to blogging to connect with other writers and potential readers, but be patient because it takes a long to time to be “found”.

 

If anyone had told me any of the above about “breaking into” my day job, I’d have laughed at them so hard I’d have had to wipe away the tears as I changed majors.

One thing I’ve learned about virtues from raising my own children is that they are not the natural state of human beings. They are something sought after, something you aspire to achieve.

The amount of self-help articles out there professing to teach patience is impressive. But one thing I’ve learned is that the more articles there are to learn how to do something, the harder that something is and the less likely those articles are to help. Google “how to tie a shoe” versus “how to lose weight” and you’ll see what I mean.

So, why is patience so hard?

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Patience is putting off something you want right now for the promise of a bigger reward later.

Think of your dog. He doesn’t care if you promise him three treats tomorrow if he doesn’t eat the one balanced on his nose right now. He’s going to eat the one on his nose as soon as you turn your back. You see that across animal behavior, and as this study shows, humans aren’t that far off from our canine friends.

I wanted to understand more about why we aren’t patient to see if I could figure out a way to be patient. Top 10 reasons according to science of why we aren’t patient:

 

1. Evolution – Our instinct is to seize the reward now, and resisting our instincts is hard. Check out any infant or toddler. We believe survival favored those that took immediate rewards. It wasn’t like there was a grocery store a mile away that we could stop at after work and get a tub of triple chocolate ice cream whenever we wanted. You took what came your way when it did.

 

2. Uncertainty – If you’ve been taught throughout life that waiting gets you better things, you might learn to wait. But if you’ve been taught that people aren’t going to follow through, that you can’t trust them, then you’re more likely to grab for the sure thing. All those stories about “living like you’re dying”? They are a case study in lack of patience because you’re now uncertain how much of a future you have.

 

3. Age – The younger you are, the less patience you seem to have. Toddlers and impulse control, anyone? But life teaches us (most of us, anyway) to control those impulses. The more life experience you have, the more patient you become. Until you’re facing your own mortality, and then you’re back to point two above.

 

4. Conceptualization of Future Self – Ever stay up way too late knowing you were going to regret it in the morning? Being impatient has a similar root cause. The inability to connect your current self to your future self. The more you can visualize your future self either suffering (after staying up too late) or enjoying a large reward (after exhibiting patience), the more likely you are to choose the path that benefits your future self.

5. Sense of Time – You know how time flies when you’re having fun, but put you in the corporate tax class I took in college, and minutes seem like hours? This has actually been proven by scienceproven by science. What this means is you have to be even more patient to get something you’re waiting for as time will seem to go even slower than if you weren’t waiting.

 

As I look through this list, the only thing that really seems within my control is working to visualize my future self. To know that if I keep plodding away now, that future self will be happier.

Can apply this to things other than writing. Like parenting. Losing my patience with them gives me a momentary outlet for my frustration, but my future self pays for it with more intractable children and a damaged relationship. Not that I should give into them, but losing my patience is not the right choice.

 

How about you? Are you patient? Impatient? If you’re naturally impatient, anything you do to try make yourself more patient? Does it work?

Held Together With Paperclips, Clothespins, and Craft Wire

I’m sure there are some people out there that can put together an amazing first draft.

I am not one of them.

Mine looks more like this:

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Yep, novel I finished looks pretty much like this. If you look closely, you can pick out the knight and wizard. Look close. Very close.

Yeah, not exactly the image of the chivalrous knight in shining armor or the powerful prince in line to be king.

How did I end up here instead of with a smooth refined work?

It’s a first draft, and I don’t do much editing as I write because it slows me down. I need to write while my muse is whispering to me. Let the creativity flow. I managed to put together 60,000 words in 6 weeks following this method. Yes, it needs rewriting, but I have a starting point.

Revision pulls out my analytical side, and this crushes my creativity. So, when my first draft is done, my work is held together with a lot of paperclips, clothes pins, and craft wire.

Yes, I can already hear many of you now. Write an outline! Not sure an outline would help my first draft get better, but . . .

Outlines Don’t Work for Me

I know, blasphemy. Almost every bit of writing advice I’ve ever heard has included this. I have yet to make it work.

I start with an outline for a story. I’ll even do character sketches and map out their arcs, blurbs for secondary characters, the whole thing. But I’ve never finished a story I first outlined.

The more I try to force myself to outline, the more rote and dry the story feels until my creativity has abandoned me and my writing feels about as interesting as eating sand.

This is my analytical side shining through. Once that comes out, you aren’t putting it back without a fight. My day job demands I be analytical, methodical, and precise. That side of me has been well-honed.

If you invoke that analytical side, I will follow that outline at hell-or-high-water.

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Maybe not that high of water . . .

I tried slogging through and forcing myself to stick to the outline on four different novels. I now have four half-finished books that will probably never be completed. Unless I run out of ideas and make myself go back to them.

I have since learned to let the story morph. To let it go places I never intended and watch my outline crumble.

Watch characters change in ways I never expected. Watch them reveal things about themselves that crushes my Author-God plans and means a rewrite must happen in the beginning to lay the groundwork for it. Or possibly a bigger rewrite as the character I planned to write is not the one that exists in the story.

I try very hard to turn the Author-God mode off and let things flow. Yes, it creates rewrites later. But at least there’s a finished version to rewrite.

I’ve come to accept that rewrites just are.

We’ve all got our process, and mine doesn’t have to mirror yours. It’s about getting it done, and I’m sure as I get more experience, my methodology will change.

 

How about you? Do you write polished first drafts? If so, what’s your secret? Do you write outlines? Do you stick to them if you do?

 

Commas

I know, I know, the last think you want to read about is punctuation. Me, too. But as I contemplate paying an editor to review my manuscript, I find that at $2 per page, I want them doing more than correcting my commas.

Which are atrocious, by the way.

Just as they are in many of the beta works I’ve read.

I had hoped another blog I follow would tackle this in a fun an creative way.

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They didn’t, so I decided to do some research on “the rules”. Remember, you only get to break rules once you know them and are breaking them for good reason. Ignorance isn’t a good reason.

And there’s a lot of rules, some using phrases I had to google as it’s been a long time since 7th grade English.

Here’s what I’ve been able to find. I put this all together in one place for easy reference. And I put in examples as I won’t remember half the jargon later.

Please let me know if there are some rules I’m missing!

  1. Use a comma before any coordinating conjunction (and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet) that links two independent clauses. – I find an example helps clarify this.  EX: I wrote a novel, and I want to publish it. However, you can rewrite the sentence as: I wrote a novel and want to publish it. In this case, no comma is needed. The “independent clause” part dictates that both parts of the sentence you are joining have a subject and verb.
  2. Use a comma after a dependent clause, phrase, or words that starts a sentence. Another example may help clarify this. EX: When I finish my novel, I want to publish it. Dependent clause basically has a subject and verb, but it is not a complete sentence. Similar to #1 as it has to have a subject and verb.
  3. Use commas to note appositives. What in the blue blazes is an appositive? It gives more information that isn’t necessary. The link gives you lots of examples. But here is another is case you don’t want to click. EX. The novel I wrote, a fantasy romance, is 76,000 words.
  4. Do NOT use commas with appositives that are essential. Right. So what is essential? It’s part of the sentence that you can’t do without and still get the context of the sentence. The novel I wrote that frustrated my daughter is 76,000 words. Yeah, I’m still a little fuzzy on this. But it seems that if the appositive tends to start with “that” it tends to be deemed essential.
  5. Use commas to separate items in a series. I wrote a novel, a poem, and a novella. Now, there seems to be some difference of opinion on the comma after “poem” in the above sentence. Those who support the Oxford comma say it should be there. Those who oppose it, say it shouldn’t. Never knew there was so much controversy in grammar, did you? There are a handful of cases where you need it, and you can find the internet meme all over, well, the internet. enhanced-buzz-19599-1389811749-10
  6. Use a comma after introductory adverbs. You know, those “ly” words we’re all trying to hard to avoid. But if you do use them at the beginning of the sentence, you also use a comma. Finally, I finished my novel.
  7. Use commas to set off free modifiers that can be placed anywhere in the sentence without causing confusion. I jumped up and down when my novel was published, laughing joyously. 
  8. Use a comma near the end of a sentence to separate contrasted coordinate elements. The new author was merely ignorant of the publishing process, not stupid.
  9. Use a comma when the first word of the sentence is “yes” or “no.” Yes, I’d like my novel published.
  10. Use a comma when you use a name. Elizabeth, would you like your novel published? 
  11. Use a comma between two coordinate adjectives that modify the same noun. Use commas here: The fabulous, amazing novel is 76,000 words. NOT here: The fantasy romance novel is 76,000 words. 
  12. Use a comma to offset negation in a sentence. I wrote a romance novel, not a thriller, as my first book.
  13. Use a comma to separate each element in an address or in a city-state name combination within a sentence. This didn’t come up much in my fantasy world, but I suppose it can be useful. Ex. I loved Seattle, Washington.
  14. Use a comma to separate the elements in a full date and separate the date from the rest of the sentence with commas. Again, didn’t really come into play in a fantasy romance, but may be useful to others. Friday, May 13, 2016, was a strange day. 
  15. Numbers.  1,000,000,000 (approximately the amount of money Disney has made selling my daughter princess stuff even as I try to hide the whole princess culture from her)

 

Dialogue

There are way better blog posts out there on the proper punctuation for dialogue, but as this is a comma post, here are the rules on when to use the comma in dialogue.

  1. Use a comma when someone says something.  The writer said, “I wrote a novel.”  OR “I wrote a novel,” said the writer.

 

You’ll note that all of my examples are nice and simplistic. These rules get a lot more complicated as your sentence complexity increases.

But it at least gets me started.