Know Your Audience

Getting to know your target audience can be as fun as it is enlightning. The focus of this post is on children, but the ideas set forth can work for any audience.

General Resources
No matter what your association is with children, a good way to reach them is by keeping a scrapbook-style binder. The binder can be organized in sections. Ideas for topics can be:
  • Articles
  • Research: Three excellent resources are, where interesting facts can be found on major historic events and current issues of many countries and facts on birth rates, child labor information, children under the age of 5 years underweight, found on the home page under "People and Society;" under "Easy Stats" for topics such as Housing, People and Education; and the InfoTrac Periodical and Reference Database at your local library, to research sources such as academic journals, books and magazines.
  • Photos and pictures cut out of magazines and ads to pose as story characters
  • Kids' favorite books and pastimes
  • Notes on snippets of conversation, the way your audience dresses, funny and poignant incidences, etc.
  • Mining your own childhood experiences, the people you have known and your memories: Occasionally when I browse through personal journals that I've kept through the years, I put subject notations on post-its and stick the post-its on the sides, like tabs; this way the information is easily accessible while composing. Also, I created a photoscrapbook of my growing-up years to jog my memory, and have found how true it is that the story is in the pictures.
  • Index on the subjects and locations of data saved on your computer.
Zeroing in on Kids' Needs
An excellent resource for understanding all aspects of writing for children is Writing for Children & Teenagers, by Lee Wyndham. Part of Wyndham's philosophy speaks to those writers who may not be "up" on the latest fads and trends (though many terrific and entertaining writers are). She wrote that writers can focus instead on the the universality of people's basic needs, young and old, and how these needs never change; summarized from Wyndam's book here: 
  •  The need to love and be loved: No one ever outgrows the need for love. Stories of deep and   moving significance can  be woven around this subject.  
  •  The need to belong: Children desperately want to be accepted by one's family and peers.
  •  The need to achieve: Wyndam wrote that, "To do or be something . . . not only gives  one a feeling of personal satisfaction and worth, but also elicits respect from others . . ."
  •  The need for security--materially, emotionally, spiritually: How one faces or does not face anxieties and fears provides innumerable story themes. "The youthful character can be badly warped by . . . tensions, or  tempered and strengthened by adversity, depending on the influences he or she comes under." 
  • The need to know: Tap into children's natural curiosity by satisfying their desire to know the how and why of things.
Addressing Children's Problems
Two resources that are helpful in understanding what children are like at each age are Child Behavior: The Classic Child Care Manual from the Gesell Institute of Human Development by Frances L. Ilg, Louis Bates Ames, and Signey M. Baker, and Youth: The Years from Ten to Sixteen by Gesell, Ilg and Ames. The two books serve as helpful references when stuck with how a child
might react to certain situations.

Problems common among children are best addressed by age group. Here is a partial list I have put together over the years from various sources:

Ages 3-8
  • Starting school
  • Desire for a pet
  • Learning to share
  • Getting along with siblings
Ages 9-12
  • Friendship: how to make and keep friends
  • Bullying
  • Accepting responsibiity for one's own actions
  • Getting along in social situations
  • Romance: dating, the meaning of love, personal conduct with the opposite sex
  • Acceptance of oneself and those who are "different" in some way
  • Faith/Religion
  • Being goal-directed vs being focused on social situations
  • Plans for the future
In between projects or in the middle of one, your "Audience Binder" will help keep you on track and perhaps give you ideas on how to expand important parts of your story that may not have occurred to you. Because you have taken the time to really get to know your audience you will be rewarded many times over, and continue to have fun adding to your treasure trove of knowledge about some of your favorite people.

Photo: Courtesy of

Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, recently completed Joyce Sweeney's  Fiction Essentials online course and is currently taking Sweeney's Picture Book Essentials online course. She has published over 40 articles for children and adults, six short stories for children, and is in the final editing stages of her first book, a mystery story for 7-9 year olds. Follow Linda on Facebook. 


Summer: write or take a break?

Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop. 

Summer may be a time for writers to play catch-up. I know I've got a few projects I'm tempted to complete since I'm not homeschooling. But I will keep my writing schedule light through June and July in order to rest. In August, I will begin in earnest to get into a good routine. 

Rest has not been in my vocabulary for 30 years. I am a go-getter by nature. But as I get older, I am finding the importance of not just finding time, but allowing myself time.

The last couple of weeks, I regularly drove by a sea of white flowers next to a church. I was drawn to them but never stopped since I was "in a hurry". 

Yesterday, I drove by them again. In my rear view mirror, the vehicle behind me turned around and quickly parked. Out jumped a little girl. She ran over to this enchanting sight, laughing and skipping through the milky-white field.

We all know we're supposed to stop but we don't. We have to do it on purpose.

If you're feeling a tug to take a break, don't be afraid to follow your instincts. 

How about it? Do you have plans to take a break this summer? 


After raising and homeschooling her 8 children and teaching art classes for 10 years, Kathy has found time to pursue freelance writing. You can find her passion to bring encouragement and hope to people of all ages at When It Hurts

Summer Writing Prompts

Summer is here! I recently returned from vacation and am writing about the wildlife I saw. I haven’t decided how to use it yet, although it could appear in a future blog post or picture book.

While working at my computer, I thought about summer writing prompts and all the possibilities. I came across some websites for kids, although many of these prompts would also work for adults. Perhaps think about your own childhood. What did you do during your summers?

Journal Buddies has some great prompts for getting kids to write. I like 11, 13 and 22. I might include them in a book or article.

I also like Montgomery Schools’ prompt concerning one’s favorite summer memory. As far as my childhood, there were trips to amusement parks, playing with friends, and riding my bike around town.

Scholastic’s writing prompts look like fun. One in particular made me laugh. Check out the prompt for June 23!

What are you writing about? I hope the prompts on these websites spark some story ideas for you.

Have a great summer!

Debbie A. Byrne has a B.S. in Mass Communication with a minor in History. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and is working on her first children’s book.

Using Bookends to Overcome Procrastination

If and When were planted, and Nothing grew.” ~Proverb
Procrastination………….who me? I know how to get things done; I also know how to procrastinate. As a writer, sometimes procrastination has to do with feeling lost in a project, other times it’s about not being satisfied with a draft.  Personally, I'm pretty disciplined with my writing time, but I can procrastinate for months when it comes to sending a draft off to an agent or editor.  After having my 900 word manuscript accepted by a magazine, the editor sent it back to me asking that I further develop the topic.  I quickly added the info requested and sent it back.  The editor responded with ..."tell me more."  Again, I added another section and resubmitted the manuscript.  I was sure I was done with the manuscript.  The editor responded with highlighting another section  and once again said..."tell me more".  Frustrated and not sure what she wanted, I put the manuscript down for three months.  When I finally finished the manuscript it was almost 3,000 words.  I was sure too much time had elapsed and the editor would no longer be interested, but with the next submission to the editor, I received my contract for publication.   Fortunately, my procrastinating didn't cost me the contract, but it certainly raised my angst about the project.
Now when I find myself procrastinating I apply bookends to the project.   Once I decide what I'm gong to work on, I schedule it and plan a pre and post project incentive. It’s my bookends. I treat myself or do something I enjoy prior to starting the project and again when I finish it. Sometimes, it’s something small like a trip to Starbucks before doing research on a project, other times it’s a day at the zoo or the art institute. Why do bookends work? I think because the first bookend marks it’s time to start and then the last bookend acknowledges the accomplishment. Sometimes the bookend at the end is something that I’m really dying to do or is time sensitive. This gives me the added push to slug through until I’m finished. So if you find yourself procrastinating, try bookends.
Mary Jo Guglielmo is writer and intuitive life coach. For more information check out:  

Tread Gently - 10 Steps To Provide a Helpful Critique

As a writer, you have to develop a thick skin. No question. Not only do you have to anticipate criticism of your writing, you need to request it.

For two reasons:

1)  Rather be critiqued by a small group of people you trust, than be trashed by thousands "out there" whom you don't even know.
2)  By doing critiques for others, you will develop your own skills in the process.
When I was growing up, my father often said to me, "It's not what you say, it's the way you say it!" And this is true of critiques. Everyone is a critic, because everyone has an opinion. We all know what we like or don't like, or what works or what doesn't. But perhaps we need to learn how to say it, or how to receive the criticism of our darlings.

Today, let's look at how to do a critique as well as what to avoid. Next month we'll look at how to react to a critique.

1. ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVES. Before you start critiquing, scan through the article and look for points you agree with, expressions you enjoy, sections of writing that make you smile. Using the comment section (if using Word Review) leave indications of your reaction. This may be a smiley face ☺ or an "Amen!" Perhaps you will leave a comment, "Oh yes, been there," or "I couldn't agree more." Or maybe you prefer, "I love this!" or "This story is so applicable." You can always do this as you go, but I find often I lose track of the need to encourage when I'm deep in a critique.

2. CONFIRM WITH THE WRITER WHAT SORT OF REVIEW (S)HE WANTS. Does she want an in-depth critique or only a general impression? Your crit partner may want to ask, "Does this work for the Baby Boomer market?" Read it through and resist the temptation to point out the extra spaces and the wrong punctuation. All she's asked for is whether you think it fits her proposed marker. Be careful not to destroy the writer's confidence in her work. Respond with an encouraging but helpful note. "I love it. I think it would improve if you wrote in 1st person though." Or "Great article, but I don't see it fitting in Chicken Soup. I could be wrong though." Or "Where I think this article has potential, I think it would be better for another market." (If possible make a suggestion.) In other words, give some constructive advice about the article, but don't go into picky details. If perhaps you think the article is good, but one illustration doesn't make sense, point that out.

I have had the situation where I've asked "Do you think this might work?" and the person I sent it to spent a good half hour of his precious time marking up every little dot and tittle of the article. The result was a waste of his time, and frustration on my side. I only submitted a draft to see if it would work. This wasn't my best writing and I didn't want a full-on critique of it. (By the way, this is the only time writers should submit a draft to a crit group, and they must be careful the recipients understand that it's a draft.)

3. APPLY YOURSELF TO THE TRUE REASON FOR YOUR CRITIQUE. You want to help the writer—you don't want to show off your own expertise. Make sure you understand the goal of the writer, and seek to find ways to help them achieve those goals. e.g. She has written for Chicken Soup. If you know C.S., look for ways you think the article is suitable and comment. Look for ways that don't fit the C.S. requirements, and point them out. If you don't know the market, say so. But then do the best you can with the critique. Good writing is good writing regardless of the intended market.

4. ASK FOR A POLISHED ARTICLE. If you realise this is a first draft, unless it is the situation as covered in #2, write back and say something generic, like, "This looks as if it has potential, and once you've done more work on it, I'll be happy to give you a full critique." I have been in a situation where a critique partner regularly sent in "first draft" material, relying on her critique group to tidy it up for her. You are not there to write the article. You're there to help make it better.

5. EVALUATE THE WRITING, NOT THE WRITER. Don't make comments like, "You're too preachy." Rather say, "This section comes across as preachy."

6. LOOK FOR ENCOURAGING WAYS TO MAKE YOUR POINT. Perhaps you want to say, "This is weak. You shouldn't use 'he ran fast'. Use a stronger verb." Rather say "Instead of the adverb, you could say 'sprinted'. That sounds stronger."

7. OFFER SUGGESTIONS. Instead of saying, "This sentence doesn't work," say, "How about . . . ?" And give the writer some idea of how they can go about making a change.

8. CORRECT MISUNDERSTANDINGS. As writers, we know what we're trying to say. Sometimes we get it all wrong, but because we can picture the scene, we don't notice the muddiness of the paragraph. You, as a critique partner, may read something and feel confused. Who is speaking here? Tell the writer. "I find this paragraph confusing. I'm not sure who's speaking." And leave it at that. Let the writer sort it out.

9. GUIDE, DON'T TAKE OVER. By all means give a few well chosen suggestions. But don't do a rewrite of the article. The resulting piece may well be much better, but the writer will have learned nothing—except possibly never to ask you for help again.

10. ALLOW FOR FEEDBACK. Members of the group I currently belong to encourage us to write personally to the person who gave the critique in order to clarify what they meant. Perhaps after correcting the section, I may ask "Is this what you mean?" However, if the writer becomes defensive, or wants to argue, say something like, "I have given you my opinion. Feel free to ignore anything you're not happy with." In fact, I almost always say that when I offer a critique. It is only my opinion, and the recipient is free to take it or leave it.

Now over to you. Do you have anything to add? Do you have an example of any of these that you'd like to share with us?

Further posts to read: 
Critiques are Essential by Karen Cioffi-Ventrice
Finding the Right Critique Group by Linda Moore Kurth

Next Month: Gracious Acceptance - Eight Ways to Deal with Critiques by Shirley Corder

SHIRLEY CORDER lives on the coast in South Africa with her husband, Rob. Her book, Strength Renewed: Meditations for your Journey through Breast Cancer contains 90 meditations based on her sojourn in the cancer valley.

Please visit Shirley's Write to inspire and encourage website or at, where she writes to inspire and encourage those in the cancer valley. You can also meet with her on Twitter or FaceBook

Re-inventing Your Voice

Have you ever struggled with your writing wondering if your writing voice is what a publisher wants or if that voice you feel so strongly about is actually reaching your audience? Here are a few ideas regarding your writing voice that may help to determine if you need to re-invent yourself and your voice.

First are you getting enough writing gigs to make you happy or are you spending the summer wallpapering with your rejections?  If you have rejections, it means you are writing and submitting your work and that is fabulous. But if you continue to get rejections while doing exactly the same kind of writing it may be that you need to change it up a bit.

Consider tweaking the points you are highlighting in a piece of writing to a different point of view. Whether that is from first person to third, or in nonfiction looking at the subject from another angle changing the direction of the piece may make it more marketable.

Look at the writing that has been rejected and make sure it is grammatically correct and the verbiage is clear and concise. Muddy writing will definitely get rejected in this tight marketplace so make sure your are using exactly the words you need to express your voice.

If the writing is clear and factual, the voice is exactly what you want, and your are still not getting clients or publishers interested in your work then look at the audience you have targeted. If your writing voice is exactly what your target audience is wanting your work will be picked up much quicker than if your voice is different than the voice of the magazine or company you are writing for. Sometimes writers must re- invent the voice and tone of their words to mesh with the target audience or the publisher. That doesn't mean that you compromise your values but that you adapt your way with theirs to find that perfect tone for a writing piece.

Writing voice can be tainted or molded by the words used and the tone of those words. For instance sarcasm  may be appropriate for an adult audience but may not be the right voice for a children's magazine. Humor may be a bit more harsh for an adult audience but could be altogether inappropriate for middle grade readers and silly humor may be appropriate for a children's story but in an adult piece readers would not appreciate the laugh.  When you do your revisions make sure your voice matches the tone you want the reader to feel and that it is appropriate for the age of your reader and the purpose of the piece.

I don't have the direct quote nor do I know the original author of the quote but it goes something like this: If you keep doing the same thing you will get the same results..... Eventually if all you get is rejections then it might be time to change your writing a bit. Think about re-inventing your writing voice. It can be more conversational, positive, less condescending, more formal, more direct, authoritative, kind, compassionate, and the list goes on depending on what kind of writing you are doing. Rest assured though, writing voice is important to the reader and those that publish and buy your work.

How can you re-invent your writing voice? Your thoughts on what difference writing voice may make in your acceptance rates?

Summer Is Here!

Yes! Summer is here - and so are the distractions.

While writers always tend to find the ability to do other things than write - answering emails, 'marketing' on Facebook, etc, the distractions are even more challenging when the sun comes out and the fun begins.

How can you keep your focus this summer?

Today, even before the first official day of summer, sit down and write down your goals for the next few months. 

1. Set a goal for the number of words or pages you will write per day, week or month and keep that goal front and center on your desk. Make it a commitment that you cannot break. No excuses.

2. If you are a member of a writer's critique group, make sure you have the meetings marked in your calendar and search for ways to contribute even if your summer journeys take you away for a week or two.

3. Summer is the perfect time to find yourself a writer's conference where you can work on your craft.  Close by or a journey away, either can help to keep you motivated.

4. Finally, set your work hours and keep to them. Yes, you can ask the 'boss' for a day off, but know that your work will still need to be completed.

This summer put down on paper your goals and keep moving forward.


D. Jean Quarles is a writer of Women's Fiction and a co-author of a Young Adult Science Fiction Series. Her latest book, House of Glass, Book 2 of The Exodus Series was written with coauthor, Austine Etcheverry.

D. Jean loves to tell stories of personal growth – where success has nothing to do with money or fame, but of living life to the fullest. She is also the author of the novels: Rocky's Mountains, Fire in the Hole and, Perception. The Mermaid, an award winning short story was published in the anthology, Tales from a Sweltering City.  

She is a wife, mother, grandmother and business coach. In her free time . . . ha! ha! ha! Anyway, you can find more about D. Jean Quarles, her writing and her books at her website at

You can also follower her at or on Facebook

To Serialize or Not To Serialize?

About a month ago, my friend, Lana Voynich, shared a link with me from the KBoards where an author shared his KDP sales graph, showing that he had spiked to over 1000 sales in one day. He'd been averaging 400-600 sales a day, across multiple genres and serials as he calls them.

I went to his blog but really wasn't find much information on actually creating a series, but a helpful article on writing serials was posted on the same forum, which I believe was more helpful than the answers I was getting from the author of said 1000+ sales in one day.

There are many benefits to serializing your stories and just as many downfalls. If you would like an overview of serializing (this is geared specifically to romance, but there are other genres that you can serialize), check out the posting here.

The debate is whether or not serializing is right for you.  If you are a writer and love writing the shorter stories, then serializing your stories may be the better way for you to go. If you really enjoy the longer novels and you do well with what is published, then maybe serializing isn't for you.

If you are serializing your books, the best way to think of them is as 30-minute to 1-hour TV shows. Each episode follows a complete storyline; your characters recur from episode to episode and sometimes you introduce new characters and sometimes you don't use all the characters; you leave your reader hanging, wanting more and they can't wait for the next episode to come out.

The genres that seem to work best as serials are romance, sci-fi, horror, to name a few.  There are probably more genres that would work as a serial but I'm at a loss right now to come up with them.

The one thing I did notice from several postings is the difference between a "series" and a "serial".  A serial is like the 30-minute TV show; a series is novel length books (over 50 or 60,000 words) where you carry your characters forward.  Most series won't leave you hanging, in the case of mysteries, and most serials will rely on reading in order of being written/published.  Serials are short; series are longer and probably involve fewer stories.  You can have a 3-book series; and however long you want to make the serial stories.  Serials have a minimum of three stories and usually expand out a lot longer than a series does. 

If you are considering writing a serial or several serials, be prepared to put a new story out at least once a month.  This seems to be the average timeframe from all sources with information on writing serials.  Research and follow other authors' examples. 

Good luck, if this is the route you are deciding to take. See you all in the postings.

Elysabeth Eldering, Author
FINALLY HOME, a Kelly Watson, YA, paranormal mystery
Elysabeth's Blog

How to combine writing with parenting

“Darling, please be quiet, mummy’s trying to compose a sentence.”

Yeah, right. Try waving a red flag to a bull and asking it not to charge. Combining parenting with writing is probably no more difficult than combining parenting with any job, except that writing doesn’t usually come with a flash/separate office and childcare initiatives, and can often be put aside when something urgent calls. As a parent, something urgent is always calling. It’s easy to try and do it all—support school council, attend events, Playgroup, lessons, matches, help with homework, the day job. So how do you make the time? How do you say no when your children (What could be more important?) are counting on you to be there for them? How do you get those sentences composed when everything else is more urgent?  Here are a few tips:
  • Don’t try to be superperson. You have to accept that you are a parent and that your children will only be little and attention hungry for a short time. You shouldn’t stop writing, by any means, but you also have to be realistic about what you can accomplish. Long projects like novels will take many years. If you write shorter pieces, you’ll have to be honest about the output you can manage. 
  • Plan, plan, plan and then expect the plan to go a little askew if someone gets sick. Sit down for a few hours each year (after the kids have gone to bed perhaps, or while they are at school), and plan what you are going to accomplish during that year, bearing in mind that your family will also need your time. Each month spend a half hour or so revising the plan; each week a few minutes and each day a moment, so that you’re always clear about what you are going to achieve from a writing perspective. 
  • Cut your plan into bite sized, relatively urgent pieces and make sure it’s in your planner/diary. Don’t have a planner/diary? You need one. Decide what writing work you’ll be doing each week and that way you can maximise any available time, whether it’s an hour after the kids are in bed, or five hours while they’re at school. Once the big plan is broken into little segments, you’ll feel a sense of writerly accomplishment meeting those small goals, but only if they are achievable!
Above all, don’t resent your children. What else is life about? The time spent with your children is, even in the most Machiavellian terms (never mind what you’re doing for them…think of what they’re doing for you), inspiration for your work. Notice what excites them, what interests them, how they look while they play and you’ve already got the basis for your next characterisation. Parent writers are lucky in that their work and play often bisect and that the joy and unconditional love in a child’s eye is the best fodder for writing.

Magdalena Ball is the author of the novels Black Cow and Sleep Before Evening, the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Sublime Planet, Deeper Into the Pond, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks. Find out more about Magdalena at

photo credit: legends2k via photopin cc

Books to Give You Aha Moments in Writing

Image Copyright © 2014 Joan Y. Edwards

"Books to Give You Aha Moments in Writing" by Joan Y. Edwards

Get out your favorite book on how to write. Which one(s) gave you an "Aha Moment" in writing? Here are four books on the craft of writing that I highly recommend because they gave me several "aha" moments while reading them. I know they will offer wonderful learning opportunities for you, too.

1. James N. Frey. How to Write a Damn Good Novel:—Step/dp/0312010443
James N. Frey explains in an easy to read and comprehend voice. It’s easy to learn the writing process with his book. He teaches you how to tell a story and how to correct problems. He asks, “What are you trying to prove about human nature?” He explains Egri’s theory that a premise is character, conflict, and conclusion. He explains how to choose the right viewpoint for telling your story. He tells when to use flashbacks and when to leave them out. He gives several ways to gain benefits from a critique group. He shows you with examples of premise and dialogue using popular stories and movies. He also shows you by making up a character or story right before your eyes.

2. Karl Iglesias. Writing for Emotional Impact-Advanced Dramatic Techniques to Attract, Engage, and Fascinate Readers

This book impresses upon writers the importance of presenting the emotions of the characters for readers to relate to on a personal level and shows you how to do it. I think following the reading of this book by the reading of the Emotion Thesaurus, or vice versa is a good plan.

3. Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. The Emotion Thesaurus

This book gives you body language for different emotions. It tells you how to show the emotions in body movements, and how people might be feeling inside, too.

4. Noah Lukeman. The First Five Pages-A Writer’s Guide To Staying Out of the Rejection Pile:”

Noah Lukeman explains the importance of getting a firm grip on the attention of readers in the first five pages. If you don't, editors, agents, and readers may not finish your book. The First Five Pages reveals the necessary elements of good writing, whether it be fiction, nonfiction, journalism, or poetry, and points out the ingredients of great first five pages:
  •  A good opening with a catchy, hook
  •  Frugal use of adjectives and adverbs
  •  New, colorful metaphors and similes
  •  Clear, crisp dialogue
  •  Well-developed characterizations and appropriate lively settings
  •  Good pacing and progression of story
If you need more books to help you with writing skills, here is a post on my blog with 28 Craft Books to Help You Get a Grip on Writing.

Celebrate you.
Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards
Copyright © 2014 Joan Y. Edwards

Flip Flap Floodle, delightful picture book that teaches children to believe in themselves and Never Give Up - even mean ole Mr. Fox can't stop this little duck.

Joan’s Elder Care Guide, Release December 2014 by 4RV Publishing


Avoiding Common Punctuation Errors Part 1: The Vocative Comma

Commas Save Lives

Your story is written.  You have compelling characters, a rich setting, deep symbolism, and a perfectly twisty plot.  You're ready to share your creation with the world.  But take a moment to consider the underrated art of punctuation.

Punctuation isn't a ridiculous torture device invented by English teachers.  It's a guide for your reader.  Used properly, those little commas, periods, and quotation marks help your reader interpret your words correctly the first time.  After all, you masterpiece isn't a masterpiece if people keep getting tripped up by punctuation (or lack thereof). 

Today we'll consider just one little rule, simple but often ignored.

The Vocative Comma:
When you address someone or something directly, use commas to set off the name or title. 
    Your car is ready, Mr. President.
    Alex, turn off that horrid music.
    At the end of the day, folks, the only thing that matters is how many people we help.
    Stupid computer, can't you just work right this once?

When authors forget this rule, at best the result is clunky or awkward.  At worst, it creates an entirely different meaning.  Here's the most classic example: 
           Let's eat Grandpa.
           Let's eat, Grandpa.
If your character is a heartless cannibal, the first version is fine.  Otherwise, you need the comma.

More Examples:

I don’t know Mom (character denying any familiarity with his mother)
I don't know, Mom (character telling his mother that he doesn't know something)

You are Sigmund.  (Revealing to an amnesiac that his name is Sigmund)
You are, Sigmund.  (Answering Sigmund's question, "Who's the crazy one here?")

Children put your toys away.  (You have very young servants who clean up your toys for you)
Children, put your toys away.  (You're telling your kids to put their toys away). 

I killed, John (character admitting to John that he killed someone)
I killed John (character admitting to the police that he murdered John)

You called me father (I'm not really your father, but it touches me that you consider me like a father.)
You called me, father.  (You're my dad, and I'm returning your phone call.)

I'll see you in February June. (You're a little confused about dates)
I'll see you in February, June (You have an appointment in February with your friend June)

And that man is the truth. (You're apparently looking at the god of truth or something)
And that, man, is the truth. (Man, I'm telling the truth)

Don't marry, Alice (Alice, stay single!  Marriage is for the birds.)
Don't marry Alice (Alice is bad news.  Don't marry her.  Marry me instead.)

Conversely, if you use the comma to set off a name or title when you're not addressing someone directly, you get results like this:

Those irresponsible cows!  Why won't they keep their dogs under control?

If you want your masterpiece to shine, pay attention to punctuation, and join me next month for more common punctuation errors.

Avoiding Incorrect Punctuation Pt 2:  Commas and Periods in Dialogue

Melinda Brasher wrote the cover story in this month's edition of Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show.  Check out the artwork here.  She loves writing, but can't read anymore without unintentionally editing, and loves a good punctuation or grammar joke.  Nerd power!  Check out her author page at Amazon.

Tips for Creating Subplots in Middle Grade Novels

by Suzanne Lieurance   If you’re writing a middle grade novel, you want to include at least one or two subplots. Subplots in fiction are sec...