15 Grammar Goofs that Make You Look Silly

Everyone makes mistakes. It’s life! But when you’re an aspiring writer then you should take the time to learn the basics in grammar. Using the wrong word in a sentence can change its meaning. More importantly, it can also make you look silly to the reader.

Here are some basics you should know:

15 Grammar Goofs That Make You Look Silly
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Writing Course: Self-Editing Your Work

You have written a story – short story or novel, it doesn’t matter. Now it is time to self-edit it. It is easy to find flaws in other people’s work, but quite difficult to recognise them in your own.

There are three components of self-editing:

1. line/copy-editing,
2. sentence editing,
3. content editing.

Line/Copy-editing

A point to remember, whilst the spell check in word processors will identify some misspelt words, you should never rely on it when self-editing as they do not pick up words that are correctly spelled but used in the wrong context (such as to, too, two, their, there, would, wood).

However, you should use the ‘find and replace’ function to check the following:

What to Look For What to Do
Words ending with ‘ly’ Adverbs tell rather than show. A lot of the time if you strengthen the verb, you can eliminate the adverb.
and, so, but, however, because Avoid connectives where possible. Try a full stop and make two sentences, or rearrange and shorten the sentence.
that If the sentence reads well without it, delete it.
thing, stuff Don’t be lazy! Be specific.
he, she, him, her, his, hers If you have two or more characters, don’t rely on pronouns as the reader can become confused as to who is doing/saying what.

Sentence Editing

Once you’ve completed the basic line/copy-edit to correct spelling and grammar, you will need to examine your sentences and the words used. Ask yourself these questions:

Is the language specific, strong?
Do your words allow visualisation?
Is the main character well developed, convincing?
Will the reader sympathise with the main character?
Is there jargon or cliches that should be removed?
Are you too wordy or concise?
Is the word choice supportive of the setting?
Is the tone consistent?
Are there shifts in tone, tense, style or voice?
Is the dialogue convincing?
Does the dialogue move the story along?
Does the dialogue reveal character, conflict or emotion?

Content Editing

The course tackles this last but I feel this should be the first thing you do as major changes could result which may mean the work you’ve already completed in the line/copy-edit and sentence edit has been wasted.

Some more questions you should ask yourself:

What is your story about?
Can you sum up, in one sentence, what you story is about?
Are you saying what you want to say?
What does the main character want? Is this clear from the start?
Where is the story set? Is it important?
Will the reader relate to the main character?
Does the story have direction?
Is there a catchy beginning?
Is the conflict clear from the beginning?
Do the characters face interesting obstacles and make difficult decisions?
Does every action have cause and effect?
Is the main character well developed and interesting?
What is the character’s ruling passion or fatal flaw?
Does the character struggle, grow, change, make a stand?
Is the right character telling the story?
Does the setting create the right mood, have a strong sense of time and place, further the theme and plot?
Is there continuance, consistency and credibility?
Has the point of view or tense changed?
Are the characters believable?
Is the narrative voice right for the story?

Professional Presentation

Once the story has been written, rewritten and edited until it is the best it can be, it is time to take steps to ‘present’ your work in a professional manner.

I would recommend you using William Shunn’s Proper Manuscript Format Website as a guide, but here’s a quick checklist:

  • Use A4 good quality white paper
  • Use no less than 12 point black font
  • Never use colour ink
  • Use double spacing for manuscript content
  • Use a title page, or more often these days, insert the following onto the first page of the manuscript:
      story title
      author’s name
      approximate word count
      full name, address and contact details
  • Insert into top header, except first page, right aligned, in the following format:
      story title/ author’s surname / page number
  • Left justify content.
  • Make sure there is no extra white space between paragraphs and the first line of each paragraph is indented up to five spaces (3 is a good number).
  • Never bind pages.
  • Always keep a backup copy on disk (or, do what I do, email yourself a copy for safe keeping).
  • Most important, always read the publisher guidelines and do as directed. Always!

 

Editing Course: Using Technology

Editing and proofreading is not just about printed matter/publications, it also involves working with other technology such as:

A website, where you would proof the pages on-screen and either email, fax or post back the corrections.

A PDF document, where you would proof the document on-screen and email back the corrections.

A Word, RTF or other soft document created in a word processor, where you would edit the document using “Track Changes” and email it back to the client.

An editor/proofreader must understand the processes of doing their work using technology. However, it is up to the individual if these services are offered. Of course, the more flexible you are, the better for you.

How Much to Charge

To start with you would probably charge about $20 – $25 per hour, but this will increase to $25 – $35 per hour as you gain experience. This is the same amount you would charge to edit/proofread hard copies.

Remember, proofreading attracts a lower fee – $20 – $25 per hour. Copyediting is around $25 – $35 per hour. And substantive editing is $40 upwards.

Keep in mind also that you will probably have to print out the soft document as it is usually easier to work with.

Technology Jargon

It is always helpful to know the jargon when using technology. Here is a short list of meanings:

These days it is not uncommon to see “e” in front of words (for example, email, e-zine, e-commerce, ebooks). The “e” means electronic.

“Uploading files” means sending files.

“Downloading files” means receiving files.

“PDF” means portable document format.

“RTF” means rich text format.

“Log in” means to access an account (and is two words).

When editing/proofreading, it is important to remember the following:

Internet should always be spelt with a capital “I” as it is a proper noun.

World Wide Web should always be capitalised too, for the same reason.

Web, when referring to the Internet, should be capitalised as it is the formal abbreviation of a proper noun.

Email can be hyphenated (e-mail) or can be written without the hyphen (email), but all other “e” words should be written with the hyphen, unless house-style dictates otherwise.

Using Spelling and Grammar Checkers

It is dicey to use spell checkers included in word processors as they are unreliable.

Use them only if you have the right one installed for your location (ie it is no use using a US spell checker if you are in Australia), and you only use it to pick up everyday typos at a glance. Do not depend on them and always edit your own work for errors.

Remember, these checkers are often wrong!

Editing Course: Perfect Punctuation II

When editing manuscripts for books, it’s important to understand the use of inverted commas for speech, quotes and apostrophes.

Speech Marks: Single or Double?

We use speech marks (ie “…” or ‘…’) in novels, magazines and newspapers to indicate when a person is talking.

Different countries have their own standards when displaying speech marks. In Australia and England the standard is to use single inverted commas for adult fiction and non-fiction.

When using single speech marks (ie ‘…’) and you need to quote a section of text within the speech, the quoted section would use double speech marks (ie “…”). Example: ‘Jim told me “it would be better for everyone”, but I don’t agree with him.’

In contrast, many children’s publishers in Australia and England use double speech marks for dialogue in picture books and early readers.

Magazines and newspapers also have adopted the double speech marks, and use single speech marks for quoted sections with text. However, they use double speech marks for stand alone quotations.

It is recommended to authors to use double speech marks as it is easier to do a find and replace to change double to single than the other way round because of apostrophes.

Conventional Usage for Punctuation with Speech

Should the comma/full stop/question mark/exclamation mark be inside or outside the quotation marks? It’s not an easy question to answer as there is no definitive answer.

In America these marks always go inside the speech marks. In Australia and England it changes depending on the situation.

This is quoted from the Australian Style manual:

In North America it is conventional for closing quotation marks to follow commas, but to precede semi-colons and colons. In Britain the situation is not quite as simple, although it is more logical. If the quoted material would have contained the punctuation mark in the absence of any interruption, the punctuation mark stays inside the closing quotation marks. On the other hand, if the punctuation is part of the carrier sentence it follows the closing quotation mark.

For example, when the punctuation closes the entire carrier sentence, not just the dialogue:

Josie faced her husband and said, “James, I’m leaving you”.

or

“James, I’m leaving you,” said Josie, facing her husband.

Alternatively, when the punctuation is part of the dialogue:

Josie faced her husband. “James, I’m leaving you.”

Other Things to Remember

Thoughts: Never use inverted commas for speech as it will confuse the reader. They will be unable to determine if the characters are speaking or thinking. The standard convention is to use italics for thought.

Dialogue Breaks: This is not a universal rule, but generally a new paragraph should start whenever the dialogue changes to a different character. This is a clear indication that someone else is speaking. Some authors prefer to run the dialogue on in certain cases such as writing style, to show several people are talking at once or to speed the pace up.

Quote Marks: As with speech marks, the use of quote marks can vary from country to country. They can be single or double inverted commas, but they must be the opposite of speech marks when used to together. Style is an in-house preference and should be consistent.

Apostrophes

Apostrophes are used in a range of text, such as when contracting two words into one (“it’s” for “it is”), for showing singular possession (Tim’s pen) and plural possession (Jones’s car).

There is a rule for when using apostrophes with names ending in “s”. If the word has one syllable (eg James) then you would add the extra “s” (eg James’s book). If the word has two or more syllables (eg Collins), you would not add the extra “s” (eg Collins’ house).

Many people ignore this rule and use only one “s” all the time as they prefer this method.

Knowing when to use an apostrophe when it comes to time can be tricky. The rule, however, is quite simple. For day, month and year the apostrophe is only used when referring to one of them, but is not used when referring to more than one. Examples are:

One day’s salary
Five days experience
One month’s anniversary
Ten months old
One year’s weather pattern
Twenty years weather pattern

Other Things to Remember

Ellipsis Points: When text is omitted from the start three full stops (ellipsis points) followed by a space are used before the rest of the text.

Example: … as can be seen here.

When omitting text from the end of a sentence you insert a space followed by the ellipsis points.

Example: “Did you mean …?” Pat gasped.

When used in the middle of a sentence the use of ellipsis points can indicate one of two things, words have been omitted or hesitancy. The ellipsis points would have a space before and after them.

Example: “Oh … I … didn’t mean that.”

In some countries the ellipsis may be spaced out (. . .) with or without a space before and after the points.

Salutations: The standard is not to use punctuation after salutations.

Example: Mr Smith rather than Mr. Smith

Greetings: The standard is the same as for salutations, not to use punctuation.

Example: Dear John rather than Dear John,

or

Yours sincerely rather than Yours sincerely,

Working on Punctuation

Copyeditors and proofreaders need to be focused when working on documents with lots of dialogue as the mind picks up what it should see, not always what is there.

To develop loyal clients, it is important to slow down and put extra effort into punctuation. It is important to hand back a thorough job instead of a job that still has lots of uncorrected mistakes. If you do this, the client will not come back to you again and they certainly won’t recommend you to others.

Important Note: No matter what the standard, it is all about consistency. If punctuation is used throughout the entire document in a certain way then check with the client prior to marking it up as it might be an in-house preference and not considered an error at all.

Short Story Tips

I’m experiencing serious problems with two short stories I’m writing. One is for younger readers, 9 to 12 year olds, and the other is for readers in their late teens. The problem is the same in each story, which tells me something. The problem is actually me, or the way I write — not the story itself.

This afternoon I set about researching tips for writing short stories in the hope that the problem can be fixed. Lots of the information I’ve read today is common sense and most of it I’ve read before. Having said that, I feel a writer can forget the basics when attempting to put together a strong story. And it’s also possible to get caught up in what’s acceptable and what’s not.

Nothing really helped me until I came upon Short Story Writing Tips by Short Story Group. There are five tips, but I will only quote one of them:

Have a clear theme. What is the story about? That doesn’t mean what is the plot line, the sequence of events or the character’s actions, it means what is the underlying message or statement behind the words. Get this right and your story will have more resonance in the minds of your readers.

This simple paragraph helped me to realise that the themes of my two stories have been lost in the telling. The story is fine, the author (that’s me) has lost sight of the theme. That’s the problem! That’s why I can’t fix them!

Now, armed with this knowledge I’ll be able to revise my stories again and this time, hopefully, get them back on track.

Digital Rights Contracts

Personally, this is something I haven’t had to think about as I have not sold digital rights to a publisher. However, Michael A Stackpole has something to say about it in his post 9 Must-have Clauses for Digital Rights Contracts and I found his comments interesting.

It wasn’t too long ago that publishers didn’t have to worry about anything other than printing rights. From what I’ve heard, very little royalty was given to the author. I remember one author saying, this was about 10 years ago, she received less than $1 for every book sold. At the time I was shocked by this news as plainly the amount of work that goes into a manuscript was surely worth more than that. Yet thinking about it now, I can see that she didn’t write for the money, she wrote to be read.

Anyway, ebooks made an appearance and it would seem that publishers still didn’t bother with digital rights because who’s going to buy them anyway? This left an opening for the authors to step in and take control of their own ebook sales. I have no idea if this opportunity was grabbed by authors or not but they would have been crazy not to.

Now publishers are realising their mistake and have started to include digital rights in the contracts. Why? Because it’s more money for them. And the author will continue to get some meagre royalty for all their hard work. However, that’s beside the point. My problem with this is that the ebooks will be sold for the same price as the paperback, or perhaps slightly less.

To me this is outrageous. I feel strongly about this. Ebooks should be at least half the price of the printed version. For heavens sake, there’s no paper, no ink, no postage, no storage. And don’t give me all that rubbish about the amount of work that goes into setting up an ebook. That’s crap. There’s no more work setting up an ebook than there is a paper version. I know. I’ve done both.

Sorry, I’m going off on a tangent. I believe ebooks in the hands of traditional publishers is a bad thing. Yes, sell publishing rights, but all authors should hold on to their own digital rights and, for a change, start making some decent money from the sales of their work.

Advice to Young Writers from Horace

It is said that Horace was a great man who lived a simple life. He was at home among the rural shrines that dotted country roads outside Rome. His ideal of simplicity was summed up in his shrewd advice to young writers.

Be brief. More ought to be scratched out than left.

– Horace

Indie Author Community Board

I must be a glutton for punishment. Honestly, I cannot believe I’ve done this…but I have. I’ve reopened the old Scribe’s board. However, Scribe’s will never return. I’ve changed in the last 14 months. My outlook and goals have changed too. Now, I want to be a part of a community. I miss being with people who care about the things I care about. Hence, the birth of…

Indie Author Community Message Board

Yes, there’s a section for writing, but the main focus of this board is indie publishing. As I learn the ropes, I’ll share my experiences. If you want to learn with me, then feel free to join the board and share your experiences too. If you’ve already travelled the indie road and have information we might be interested in, then please join the board and share. And, yes, if you’re a writer and haven’t even thought about publication yet but want to mingle with other writers, then join the board…ok, I won’t say it again. Anyway, the more the merrier.

I don’t want the community to be swamped with rules and regulations. Not like last time. Use common sense and respect and everything should be fine.

I hope to see you at the board soon. 😀

Portable Software for USB Drives

Writers are always looking for new ways to write and here’s another option for you. Buy a USB drive and then head over to PortableApps.com – Portable software for USB drives.

You can download portable Open Office so that you always have a word processor at your finger tips, no matter what computer you are using.

You can download portable Firefox so you always have access to all your favourite internet places.

You can even download portable Thunderbird so you can access email easily.

Then, all you have to do is add your writing folder to the drive and you’re set to write. . .any time, any place (as long as there’s a computer available).

And there’s plenty of other portable apps to search through too. All are free to download and use. Nothing illegal about it.

Setting Stories Free

I’ve discovered another informative website – Publetariat.

If you click on the “Publish” tab, you’ll find a long list of articles that could steal several hours of your time. I read a few of them and intend to read more. But this post is related to one of the articles Setting Stories Free…For Free.

If you read the article, you’ll discover the author has been giving away free stories for nine years and she intends to continue doing so. Over the years she received a lot of flack over it, but that made no difference. Then, near the end of the article, she tells how she also has seven best sellers since 2005. No wonder she didn’t/doesn’t listen to the flack. What she’s doing is working in her favour, why should she stop doing it?

This is a great example of someone who made a decision and stuck with it. It’s also an example of how giving something away for free can lead to a readership that will support you when you publish too. But what I liked best about the article is that it gives a clear message of determination wins through, which is encouraging as we sometimes get disillusioned on this long journey.