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The ROY G BIV Approach

by Cynthia Ruchti

Do they still teach elementary school children the colors of refracted light, rainbow-style, via the ROY G BIV method? Memorizing seven colors in a specific order is tough…until you learn the odd but hard to forget name ROY G BIV: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet.

Got it. Forever.

Some common misspellings and punctuation glitches that can keep our masterpieces from drawing positive attention can be corrected with a ROY G BIV mnemonics (fancy word for legal cheating) memory boost technique.

How can ROY help us polish the details of our manuscripts, making them more professional and appealing to editors, agents, and contest judges?

Is it you’re or your?

ROY says, “If you want it to mean you are, end it with an e.”

If you’re writing along in your manuscript and can substitute the words you are for the word you’re you just wrote, bravo.

Apply ROY to the example sentence: “If your writing along (nope-you are writing along-you’re) in you’re manuscript (nope-your manuscript) …”

Your is always possessive, our teachers told us. But the “possessive” concept is more complicated than testing a word choice with the simple question: Can I substitute you are for the word I used?

If so, the correct contraction is you’re (ends with an e, just like the word are).

Which direction does the apostrophe face?

ROY says, “An apostrophe always sticks its rump to the right.”

An apostrophe that represents a missing letter, whether at the beginning or the end of a word, will always curve to the right.

It will look like this: Goin’ to leave ’im ’fore he leaves me, NOT curved to the left: Goin‘ to leave ‘im ‘fore he leaves me. If your word processor curves an apostrophe to the left (as if it were a beginning single quote mark), correct it before submitting to your editor or agent or contest coordinator.

Is it its or it’s?

ROY says, “The apostrophe in this case is a missing letter’s stand-in.”

That’s what it’s for, in its best use. It’s always means it is, with the apostrophe serving as a stand-in for the letter i from the word is.

Before submitting your manuscript, search for it’s and its. Make sure they’re correct for that usage. Can you substitute the words it is? Then use the apostrophe and make it say what you want it to say.

WRONG: Its time to go to find it’s hiding place.
CORRECT: It’s (it is) time to go find its (possessive) hiding place.

Where does the punctuation go?

ROY says, “Periods and commas like to stay inside. Question marks and exclamation points-the tall ones-are indoor/outdoor, depending on the weather.”

When quotation marks are involved, it can be confusing to figure out where the punctuation goes. But thinking about it with the ROY technique helps. Periods and commas stay inside almost all the time. Just like writers. Question marks and exclamation points get squirrely if they don’t stretch their legs once in a while.

WRONG: She stared at the stranded turtle and his sorry “lunch”. (I know! Looks right, doesn’t it? Not according to the Chicago Manual of Style. Periods and commas go inside at the end of a sentence, even if the quotation marks only surround one word, not someone’s dialogue.)
CORRECT: She stared at the stranded turtle and his sorry “lunch.”

Exclamation points are different. Taller, for one thing. They like to be outside the quotation marks, unless they are part of the quotation.

WRONG: You should have seen the way she looked at his sorry “lunch!”
CORRECT: You should have seen the way she looked at his sorry “lunch”!

WRONG: He yelled, “Fire”!
CORRECT: He yelled, “Fire!”

Same thing with question marks.

WRONG: Did he get fired or was he “downsized?”
CORRECT: Did he get fired or was he “downsized”?

WRONG: A three-year-old’s always asking “why”?
CORRECT: A three-year-old’s always asking “why?” (The question mark is part of the quotation.)

Note the punctuation in the previous sentence. Because the entire sentence is in parentheses, the period…huh…stays inside! Just like always.

Except when the parenthetical phrase is only PART of the sentence:

You’ll be happy to know he picked up his socks (for the first time ever).

Apparently parentheses are more like a back porch than either indoors or outdoors.

WRONG: If you’re going to “bend the rules”, be careful.
CORRECT: If you’re going to “bend the rules,” be careful.

Honestly. That’s how the Chicago Manual of Style says to do it. You’ll find plenty of examples of these elements-and dozens of others-done incorrectly in print and online. But the CMS is the gold standard for the publishers and agents you want to impress.


Cynthia Ruchti’s step-grandpa’s name was Roy, which has nothing to do with the ROY G BIV method of memorization. She does, however, use every tool she can find for ironing out the wrinkles in her novels, including the novella-”Maybe Us”-in Barbour Publishing’s Romancing America novella collection Cedar Creek Seasons, which releases in September.

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6 Responses to The ROY G BIV Approach

  1. Kimberly says:

    Thanks for the tips. I learned something new today about ! and ?.:)

  2. Another one that sometimes fouls us up is the use of “There’s” and “There are.”

    WRONG: There’s several reasons we eat at noon.
    CORRECT: There are several reasons we eat at noon.

    ROY says, “If there is an S on the end of the noun, don’t put an S on the end of THERE.”

    Again, the apostrophe is a stand-in for the letter i. So “there’s” will always mean there is, which leads to a single response. There’s hope. There are hope-givers. There’s peacemaking. There are peacemakers.

    The word “there’s” and the noun it’s referring to can’t both end in s. :)

  3. And I apologize for the confusion with the apostrophes. The font used for the blog post made them all straight! Think of an apostrophe as Don Knotts facing east. His adam’s apple curves to the right.

  4. Ane Mulligan says:

    GREAT help. Cynthia. A couple of times, I was sure that quote should go inside the period. You showed me I was right, but I didn’t believe myself. LOL Thanks. I printed this and am join to pin it to my wall next to my desk. :) Did I mention I hate punctuation?

  5. Loved this, Cynthia! Since I’ve been a copy editor, I knew most of this and cringe when I see it misused, but I always struggle with the singular quotations marks and commas & “periods.” It just looks weird to me, especially when it’s correct to put exclamation points and question marks outside the quote. I always want to put the period “here”. Thanks for a great tutorial!!

  6. This is a great blog! I am a first grade teacher and writer of many genres. I look forward to following your blog and attending the conference in September to learn more about great writing resources, collaborate with others and seek to find a full-service publisher for my new Children’s series of 7 total titles, of which 2 are in the process of being submitted to a self-publisher Xilbris Publishing. In a short time, I will make the name of the series public, working on the trademark first, for the series! Seize the day everyone and bring Jesus along the way! :)