To Know Your Grammar is to Love Her, Part II

Millions of you loyal readers will recall the first time I blogged about grammar. This time I’m tackling the issue from a different perspective.

GrammarIn my previous post on the subject, I focused on the obscure and easily forgotten terms people associate with grammar, and how some think they can’t write because they don’t remember all those definitions from English class.

Today I’ll explore some basics of grammar that might be keeping you from succeeding as a writer, prevent you from grasping that brass ring. No strange words this time (well, maybe one).

I came upon this blog post by Allison VanNest that discusses five common grammar mistakes beginning writers make. Well worth reading! Experienced editors would likely agree with Allison about her top five list, based on manuscripts they receive.

  • Misuse of Commas: I like Ms. VanNest’s take on this one. Commas are supposed to signal pauses. That’s why I’m an advocate of the Serial (or Oxford) Comma. However, I’ll bow to the wishes of an editor who’s willing to accept my stories!
  • Incorrect Capitalization: I’m surprised this one made the list of the top five grammar mistakes, but I guess it is a problem.
  • Misspellings: It’s very true what Allison writes about this, including the fact that spell checkers can lead you astray. (I’ve long loved the funny poem about spell checkers.)
  • Wordiness: We’re all prone to this. As you edit, make each word and phrase defend itself, earn its place in your story.
  • Missing Determiners: There’s that one (possibly) strange word I mentioned. Don’t leave out “a,” “an,” and “the” when they’re needed for clarity.

You may be thinking, “So what if my story has a misspelled word, or I’ve got a comma out of place? Why is that so important?”

Here’s why: If you send your manuscript to an editor, your bad grammar tells the editor you don’t know the language very well. Your bad grammar makes the editor more likely to reject your story even if it is otherwise compelling. Moreover, the editor is more likely to reject your future submissions out of hand.

If you decide to skip the editor and self-publish instead, you’re disappointing and then frustrating the reader, your ultimate customer. Not only will your reader cast your book aside in disgust, he or she will not buy your other stories and may leave an unfavorable review, thus turning off other potential readers.

My intent today was to comment on the content of Ms. VanNest’s blog post. That site is promoting a grammar-checker software product called Grammarly. I have not yet tried that program, so have no reason to criticize or endorse it. Many word processors include grammar-checkers, but you might find single-use software such as Grammarly to be superior.

Ensure your writing avoids the top five grammar mistakes before you submit it for publication. Make them part of your editing process as you rewrite your drafts. Before you know it, you’ll have more stories published and a higher income from your writing, than—

Poseidon’s Scribe

I Dint Proofread This Blog Post

Yes, I should have proofread this blog post before publishing it, but you know how thyme gets away from you. It’s possible there may be errirs I didn’t catch.

ProofreadingProofreading is impotent because readers get annoyed when they see mistakes left behind. They may conclude you’re not a competent writer. Worse, depending on the mistakes you make, you can convey a meaning counter to what you mint.

I’ve blogged about editing once or twice before, and I may have been lumping proofreading inn with that term. There is a distinction. In fact, in large publishing houses, there are different people involved; the editor and the proofreader halve different skills.

Editing should precede proofreading, and it concentrates on the biggger picture. An editor is checking for focus, readability, clarity, logic, good transitions, and consistent tone.

A proofreader, by contrast, is checking for speling errors, the bad affect of grammatical errors, use verb tense problems, words that might missing, mis$ing or incorrect punctu@tion, and poor sentence structure such as run-on sentences or sentence fragments that.

How do you go about proofreading? There’s some excellent advice available here, here, here, and here.  I’ll repeat some of that advice below, grouped into categories:

Spelling

  • Don’t trust spell checkers. Use them, but realize they only check four spelling, knot the correct use of a word.
  • Keep a dictionary on hand. This helps with obscure words that spell-checkers don’t no.
  • Read backward. An old trick, but it werks! You’l spot errors more eesily.

References

  • Keep reference materials on hand. The web can work for most things, but not all.
  • Double-check facts, figures, and proper names. Making sure of these things now can save embarrassment later. Ensure you check “internal facts” such as consistency with your character names, ages, hair and eye color, etc.

Freshness

  • Give yourself a break. Keep yourself mentally fresh and alert. Proofreading requires attention to detail.
  • Give the manuscript a break. This means to let your creation sit for a time (days, weeks, even months) before proofreading, to make it seem fresh to you. It’s easier to spot errors that way.

Other Proofreading Tricks

  • Adopt a critical mindset. Think like an auditor, or channel your most frustrating English teacher from school. Assume your manuscript is awash in errors and you’re going to find them.
  • Print out the text, review the hard copy. This works for some people.
  • Create a customized proofreading list of your most common errors. I highly recommend this. Keep the list dynamic by adding new errors you uncover.
  • Proofread for one category of error, or one type of problem, at a time.
  • Read the text aloud. Sometimes errors are easier to spot when spoken.
  • Ask someone else to proofread your manuscript. Ideally this would be a fellow writer, or a friend who knows English well and is willing to give you honest criticism.

Its my sincere hope you take more time proofreading you’re stories than I’ve done with this blog post. Eye was a bit rushed today:; but that’s really no excuse?! Starting with the next post, I’ll return two the polished, error-free, grammatically perfect prose you’ve come to expect from—

Pose-sigh-dunce Scribe

Just Your (Writing) Style

Style is one of the five fundamental elements of fiction, along with character, plot, setting, and theme.  It’s also the most difficult of the five to explain or understand.

StyleI like to start my blog posts by defining terms, but this time I’ll let the definition of style emerge as we go.  For now, I’ll say that every author writes differently, with certain identifying characteristics.  In theory, if we took a sufficient random sample of any single author’s writing, we could identify the author by the style.

According to Wikipedia, the components of style include:  Fiction-writing modes, Narrator, Point of View, Allegory, Symbolism, Tone, Imagery, Punctuation, Word choice, Grammar, Imagination, Cohesion, Suspension of disbelief, and Voice.

Each item on that long list does contribute to style, but some are more important than others, and some are more characteristic of a particular story than of the author’s general manner of writing.

To me, the major characteristics of style are Tone, Word choice, and Grammar:

  • Tone is the attitude displayed by the writer toward the subject matter of the story.
  • Word choice, or diction, relates to the author’s vocabulary.  Does the author stay with simple, understandable words or employ arcane words?  Does the author embellish with adjectives and adverbs, or let the nouns and verbs do the work?
  • Grammar is all about the structure and logic of sentences.  What sentence patterns and lengths does the author prefer?

Although your style may change as you mature in your writing, readers like it better when authors maintain a consistent style.  Style can set you apart from all other writers; it can be the factor that keeps readers buying more of your books.

If you’re wondering how to go about creating your own style, I recommend you read the list created by author David Hood in this blog post.  His eleven-item list can seem intimidating, so just focus on items 1, 2, 3, 5, and 7.  I think if you learn the rules of writing, expand your vocabulary, read a great deal, experiment with different styles, and learn about literary techniques, your own style will emerge naturally.

What’s more, you shouldn’t have to work too hard to continue using your newly discovered style.  It should flow from you in a natural way.  Unlike your stories, which are overt acts of creative effort, your style is something that should emerge.  In a sense, you’re unleashing it, not creating it.  Even if it does require a little effort at first, in time it will get easier.

Perhaps you’ve gotten a better understanding of style now, that signature or fingerprint that identifies you and separates you from other writers.  With any luck, readers will love your style.  For now, I’ll sign off in the usual style of—

                                                         Poseidon’s Scribe

To Know Your Grammar is to Love Her

Grammar LessonYou’d like to write a story, you really would.  But there’s that awful memory of your grade-school English teacher trying to convey the meanings of comma splices, dangling modifiers, gerunds, infinitives, intransitive verbs, and subjunctives.  You’ve forgotten all that stuff, so you think there’s no hope.

There’s hope.  Yes, there are a lot of English grammar terms, and it can be hard to recall what they all mean.  And yes, just like with any occupation, you should know the specialized lingo that comes with it.

However, in my view, a detailed knowledge of all the English grammar terms belongs way down on your priority list.  The very first item on that list is being able to tell a story in a compelling way.  If you can manage that, I think most editors don’t mind correcting a few language flaws.  They’ll take a single passionate spinner of yarns over a hundred boring grammarians every time.

Ever started a car engine and driven a car?  Can you name all the parts of an automobile engine?  Perhaps you noticed you can drive pretty well without knowing all those underlying details.  Writing’s like that.

You can re-learn the grammar stuff at your leisure.  But telling a tale that captivates readers, ah, that’s a skill much more difficult to learn or teach.  Focus your efforts there.

As a service, I’ll provide explanatory examples of the grammar terms I mentioned earlier.  There are a myriad others you might have forgotten, but you can look them up on sites like this.

  • Comma splice.  I’m using a comma to link independent clauses, that should be acceptable.  In most cases, it’s not.
  • Dangling modifier.  One morning I saw a dangling modifier in my pajamas.  How it got in my pajamas, I’ll never know (and thanks, Groucho!).
  • Gerund.   It’s the taking of a verb such as ‘take’ and reshaping it into a noun like ‘taking’ by adding ‘ing.’
  • Infinitive.  To understand infinitives is to know something complex, but to simplify, you’re urged to add ‘to’ before a verb.
  • Intransitive verb.  These are the independent, self-sufficient kind of verbs that don’t need no stinkin’ object. They exist.  They stand alone.
  • Subjunctive.  If I were to take a concrete, here-and-now verb and elevate it to new a new and uncertain stratum of possibility, hope, or opinion, I’d be making it a subjunctive.  (Like to take and be making.)

Don’t despair if you can’t recall all the grammar terms.  I’m sure some famous authors don’t know them all, either.  Learn to write well now, and master the grammar terminology later (or maybe not ever).  Whether you agree or not, let me know by leaving a comment.  No one’s idea of a master grammarian, I’m—

                                                                     Poseidon’s Scribe