Currently Browsing: grammar

Just one minor thing but so important

Okay, let’s talk for a moment about the comma. Not all about its many uses in punctuating sentences – gracious, that would take all night. Let’s just pick one aspect of commas and look at it a bit.

Lately, I’ve edited a couple of pieces in which the writers didn’t quite understand the way an address–the sort where one character addresses another, not a street address 🙂 — inside a sentence is punctuated. So I fixed a lot of sentences like these. I hasten to add that none of these sentences appear in the manuscripts I edited. I invented these “brilliant” bits all by myself.

“Waldo what do you think you’re doing?”

“Come over here Mike, and give me a hand.”

“I don’t know, Sally if I’d open that door.”

Each of these is incorrect. The mistake is easily fixed, though. Add a comma before and after the name of the person being addressed.

“Waldo, what do you think you’re doing?”

“Come over here, Mike, and give me a hand.”

“I don’t know, Sally, if I’d open that door.”

However, English being the tricksome beast that it is, don’t get tripped up by multiples.

“William, you and Thomas wash the dishes while Kimberly feeds the cat and dog.” Correct? Incorrect? All those names! Well, who is the speaker speaking to? She (I visualise this as a mother; I suppose because I am one and gave millions of orders like these.) is speaking only to William, so his is the only name set off with a comma.

“William, wash the dishes while you, Thomas, dry them. I want you to feed the cat and dog, Kimberly.” Perfectly dreadful sentences, honestly, but the commas are correct.



I wouldn’t really spend a blog post talking about this if I hadn’t seen errors recently. It’s not hard. If one character speaks to another one, add commas and stir. Smile

The Cover is Only Cosmetic–Honest It Is

I was reading comments on a forum the other day. Someone asked about hiring an editor to edit his book and was that really necessary. And if it was necessary, where could he find a good, inexpensive editor? The comments rapidly shifted from making the contents of the book as highly polished and professional as possible to “hire a good cover artist,” “a great cover will sell your book,” and “you need an eye-popping cover!”

Okay, an excellent cover is a plus. A lousy cover will turn off most potential buyers. I know that. No argument.  But guess what will turn off all your buyers? Lousy content. Sloppy writing. Cardboard characters who don’t act like any human beings who ever lived. Stilted dialogue. Bad spelling. Typographical errors. Wack-a-doodle punctuation.

Go to Amazon. Read a few book reviews. Any reviews. Any genre. Any writer. How many will say, “This book was full of bad grammar and spelling mistakes. 1 star!” Short answer: Lots. How many will say, “What a great cover! I didn’t even mind that the writer couldn’t tell a semi-colon from a hole in the ground!” Go ahead. Find one.

It’s true that I’m a freelance copy-editor. I don’t make much money at it. I’m not looking to make much money at it. I’m more interested, honestly, in helping indie writers improve their writing than in being able to light fires with hundred dollar bills. Or even one dollar bills.

But, seriously, sometimes I wonder if some indies are ever going to “get” it. It’s not the flash. It’s not the paint job. It’s the content. It’s the actual work that matters. The words. The sentences.

You can paint up a jalopy. You can re-chrome everything. You can tart that sucker up till it shines like a second sun even on a cloudy day.  But if it doesn’t have an engine, it won’t run.

A book is exactly the same. You can slap a brilliant cover on sloppy work and it’s still sloppy work. And your readers will recognize that it’s sloppy work and will “reward” you accordingly.

Indie writers, I love ‘em, but sometimes . . .

I love indie (also known as self-published) writers. I really do. My Kindle (which I also love) is chock-full of outstanding indie fiction, indie memoir, and indie writing advice. I am in several indie writing communities.

But, I have to tell you that every time someone raises – usually under a flag of neutrality, but sometimes with his freak flag flying and daring you to tell him that some rule actually matters – *takes a breath* Where was I? Oh, yes. Sorry. Whenever someone raises the subject of rules and do we really have to follow them, I just want to reach right through the internet and knock some sense into people.

I could end this now. YES, rules matter. They are there for a reason. DO NOT break them until you are quite sure you completely understand them. Grammar rules. Punctuation rules. Sentence structure rules. Point of View rules. Plotting rules. Sure, most of these can be bent and some can be broken if you’ve got good enough a reason. But if you go breaking them without knowing right down to your bones what you’re doing, you will write a mess.

Point of View is one of those tricky little beasts. I’m not going to write a whole book about point of view. There are are excellent books on that subject. Here are two just off the top of my head:

The Power of Point of View by Alicia Rasley

Write Great Fiction – Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress

You can find others.

Let me just say now that skipping around merrily from one character to another giving the reader the thoughts of each of them all in the same scene on the same page will eventually wear out our patience. And, no, just because Johnny is kissing Sally at the same time Sally is kissing Johnny we still don’t need to be inside both their minds at the same time.

One last thing. NO! George R.R. Martin is not breaking the rules of POV characters when he uses ONE, count ‘em ONE, POV voice for each separate chapter of his epic Song of Fire and Ice books. Because, ladies and gentlemen, that is the rule: One POV per chapter. It’s been further sliced to one POV per scene but classically and traditionally One POV Per Chapter is totally correct.

Why in the name of all that’s writerly would someone use Martin as an example of someone who is breaking the rules?

My own preference – not always adhered to – is to write in first person. Yes, it’s limiting. I like that. I like showing the reader only what the narrator sees and hears and knows. Because, guess what, the narrator can be wrong. She can trust the wrong person. She can misinterpret what she sees. And she takes the reader right along with her. Then I write third-person chapters (NOT just paragraphs and not usually scenes, usually whole chapters) that take place away from the first-person narrator, showing events of which she has no knowledge.  After all, Joan Hess and Elisabeth Peters use this technique all the time. Not that I’m in their league, you understand. It’s just an effective technique.

I’ve said it before and will no doubt say it again.

Indie writers have got to be BETTER than traditionally published writers. We have to write cleaner, fresher, prose; we have to make fewer typographical errors; we have to create stronger plots and more lifelike characters. We have to be twice as good to be thought half as good.

As long as we settle for almost as good – heck, as long as we settle for the faint praise of “just as good” – we are doomed to live on the edges, kicked to the curb, and ignored.

Rein/Reign/Rain Down on Me

On an infamous and pitiless website, I found this little bit of a sentence today: The Voice reined supreme in the ratings.


Reined? Really? Well, that sentence awoke the pitiless word-snark in me. I see this word confusion all the time. “Reign in your emotions!” or “She reigned in her anger.” Uh, no. That’s “reined in.” Why? Because it’s a figure of speech, comparing the emotion or anger to an out-of-control horse. And the reins in question are metaphorical reins comparable to the literal reins you’d use to control the horse.

However, The Voice reigned supreme. Reigned, not reined. The comparison here is to a ruler, a king who reigns.

If this were the only example of the reined/reigned mix-up, I probably wouldn’t have made this post. But it’s out there everywhere. I think (so far) the only error I haven’t seen is confusing rain for reign or rein. If I find it out there somewhere, I’m sure I’ll froth at the mouth a while and then post about it.

The Gotcha That Bites Back

My much-loved, though occasionally delusional, husband is fascinated by Donald Trump. Therefore, we were watching the latest installment of “Celebrity Apprentice” the other night when I saw yet another example of the “gotcha” that bites.

The men’s team had many problems with its project (an advertisement for The Best Hotel Collection in The Universe — The Trump Collection, as if there were a doubt), including some spelling problems in the rough draft. Their judges smugly pointed out and and circled for the camera, which zoomed in on the text, “discreetly.” The judges chuckled in that superior way and a viewer could almost hear the “gotcha.” Unfortunately for the judges — and why NBC allowed this to remain in the final edit, I have no clue — “discreetly,” as used in the sentence is (wait for it) correct. Apparently the judges have seen “discreetly” misused and spelled “discretely” (also a perfectly good word but with a different meaning) until they don’t know the correct usage when they see it.

I saw the same thing on a blog a week or two ago. The phrase “to whet your appetite” was used. A perfectly good, though possibly overused, expression. Correctly spelled. The first comment was, rather smugly, I thought, “wet, not whet.” The second comment corrected the first. The third, amazingly, was by the first commenter, calling the one who corrected her, and I quote, a “troll.” I’m sure you know what a troll is, one who posts inflammatory ridiculous comments to stir up trouble. No. If anyone was being trollish, it seems to me the incorrect “correcter” was.

What’s the point of all this? I suppose it is just to say we should keep an humble mind. We all make mistakes. There’s a mistake on the back cover of a novel I edited that was published last week. In fact the mistake is in a sentence I actually wrote. I have no idea how it happened. It’s not the type of mistake I normally make — and, trust me, I’m well aware of the types of mistakes I normally make — but there it is. In print. For everyone to see. I’m just hoping it’s not too glaring. And if someone points it out to me, I have a response all ready.

“I know. I’ve already thrown myself on my sword for the author. If you want me to, I’ll throw myself on another one for you.”

Yes, I’m still a bit snarky. But I’m not above making mistakes. And I will do my best to take responsibility for them.

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