Sunday, June 22, 2008

Book Review: The Godfather, by Mario Puzo

Copyright © 2008, Steven E. Houchin
( Originally written 1 June 2008 )

Cover of The GodfatherCritiques of my first book, Linear Descent, revealed that dialog among my Mafia characters needed some additional color. So, I bought a ratty, old paperback copy of The Godfather (possibly an original 1969 edition) at Half Price Books. After reading it, I had a few thoughts about its construction as a novel.

First, the main characters are superbly developed. Their Sicilian ethnicity pervades their psyche. Each character has his/her distinct personality, fears, problems, lusts, faults, and desires. They are believable. Unlike most books that have a clear main character, The Godfather is a conglomeration of characters and subplots whose lives are affected by their relationship to the Godfather, Don Corleone. A whole chapter may focus on some aspect of one character's life, then the next will switch to another character. But always the story is moved forward.

Second, the book has a definite turning point in the middle: Don Corleone is gunned down in the street. Though he survives, his life, and the future course of his organization, are irreversibly changed. There's no going back to "business as usual" for The Family. The organization careens into a tragic mob war, and must compromise -- temporarily -- to survive.

Third, the author completely ignores the rules on point of view. You, the reader, are in everybody's head within each chapter and scene, even changing from paragraph to paragraph. It takes a bit of getting used to, but Puzo seems to make it work. I've recently discovered that this isn't all that unusual in books of this genre. So, clearly, POV violations aren't absolutely fatal for publication, or even success.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Fun With Numbers; To Hyphen Or Not To Hyphen

Copyright © 2008, Steven E. Houchin
( Originally written 14 April 2008 )

I tend to spell out most numbers in my novels (the main exception being dollars and cents). There are definite, but sometimes conflicting, rules for how to spell out numbers in a manuscript. There are several web sites that attempt to deal with this subject. One is Tina Blue's Grammar and Usage for the Non-Expert. Another is at

I'll try to summarize some of the points here.

1. Hyphenate compound numbers from 21 through 99. For example: sixty-five, thirty-one. But, larger numbers aren't hyphenated: one hundred fifty-six (not one-hundred-fifty-six).

2. Hyphenate fractions. For example: three-fifths, one-tenth. But, there are exceptions. If there is already a hyphen present in either the numerator or denominator, no other hyphen is added. For example: twenty-five thirty-eighths (not twenty-five-thirty-eighths). Also, no hyphen is used when the fraction is used as a noun: They were scoreless after three quarters.

3. Hyphenate numbers when joined with a unit of measurement to form an adjective. For example: twenty-five-minute walk, thirty-six-year-old man, fifty-yard pass, seventeenth-century historian. This rule also holds true when using digits: 25-minute walk. But, when not used as an adjective, the joining hyphen is not used, as in: walked twenty-five minutes (not twenty-five-minutes), passed fifty yards (not fifty-yards).

Clearly, describing these rules is quite complicated, but if we write numbers this way, it is a subject we need to understand.