Tuesday, June 25, 2013

writing mistakes -- tip

A tip for a book whose author is almost
as much of a sticker for grammar as I am.
by Ann Nolder Heinz

****First Place Winner Dragonfly Awards Competition, Historical Fiction Category****

A desperate flight from brutal oppression—and everything to lose if it fails...

Two women, one white, the other black, find themselves trapped in bondage on a South Carolina plantation in 1850s America. Their unique friendship gives each the strength to endure until circumstances threaten not only to rip them apart but to place their very lives in jeopardy.

Question from the e-mail:  I asked a friend to read one of my manuscripts and she says there are too many grammar mistakes.  We went to the same college and I thought we both knew grammar....

Answer:  Well the stylebook used by American publishers varies greatly from what most of us are taught in English 101, where the most commonly used reference is Stunk & White, who were British. We are taught in class to write exposition, and fiction (even articles if they include quotes) are punctuated vastly different from what is recommended there.

We will say that many of the manuscripts we receive contain quite a number of mistakes, despite the efforts put forth in our submission guidelines to make things easier at both ends.  Here's some info on the most common ones we see.

Tips on How to Avoid Common Writing Problems
from the Publishers at Ebooksonthe.net

1.    Check homonyms and be sure they are used correctly. Problems often happen with words that sound alike, but are spelled differently, because spell check will not pick up on them. Watch out for words like hear and here, then and than, to (toward), too (more or also), and two (the number), there, their, and they’re, peak (the top of a mountain), peek (to sneak a look), and pique (a fit of anger), zinc and sink, and check them carefully.

2.    Double check your transitions to be sure the reader is oriented. A transition is when you move the reader from one place to another, or one scene to another, or one time to another–usually the opening sentence in a block of copy or scene. A good transition, like the lead in a newspaper or magazine article, should answer the questions, Who? Where? and When?

3.    Re dialogue and dialogue punctuation: Make sure characters don’t waste time on small talk. Punctuate dialogue correctly. Never let two characters talk in the same paragraph. Commas and other punctuation go inside the quotes. And everything a person says at one time (even if they change the subject) goes in the same paragraph.

4.    Indicate the speech tags as part of the whole sentences in dialogue.  When a quote is followed by a “speechtag” as in, ‘David explained.’– the tag is still part of the SAME sentence and so the end of the dialogue speech is connected with a comma (NOT a period), and then a close quote. The comma is there to show that the “said” is part of the same sentence. Dialogue quotes should not end in period when there is a speechtag. Tags like “Responds David”, or “Explains Mary” should never be capitalized as they are not a new sentence. On the other hand, if David MOVES, instead of speaks, the action tag will make the reader assume he is the speaker, but it requires a whole new sentence...

5.    Keep speechtags simple. Use “said” most of the time. Never use animal sounds such as ‘he barked’ unless your character is a dog or a drill sergeant. Here's a neat little technique–if you show a character in action within the same paragraph as their speech, the reader will assume the character who moved was also the one who spoke. This little trick can get rid of a lot of repetitive language (the saids), and it forces you to insert an image. If you want to show another character's reaction to the speech, change paragraphs. Treat the movement as if it were a dialogue reply. Showing reactions is a good way to break up long, long, speeches, even if the other character doesn't say anything...

6.     Write in scenes or structured parts and be sure each part makes a point. In fiction, the turning point is the place where something important changes forever. In non-fiction, it’s where you draw a conclusion. In either case, scenes or parts should always have a point.

     Narrate scenes or parts  with no point. They always tell us in the beginning to write in scenes and  "show don't tell" and narration is "telling." But you can't show everything. So narrate the mundane, or the action in scenes that don’t have a point. Most writing texts don't get into how to do narration – in fact they warn against it. But narration has an important place in any work.
7.     Be aware of scene structure and hooks.  Every scene has the same structure.  Here it is:
    1. Transition, preferably with hook. (Who? When? Where?)
    2. Rising action and dialogue
    3. Turning point of the scene (the place where something important CHANGES FOREVER)
        (if there's no point, the scene goes, no matter how well written)
     4. End/resolution of the scene, preferably with another hook. Usually when we come to the end of a scene,

    * * *

     we indicate it with the double line break, at least two extra lines of "white space"  and the three stars.

8.     Watch capitalization. Proper nouns get capitals, pronouns do not. But that can be confusing sometimes. For instance, Mom or Dad gets a cap when used as a proper noun, but no cap when used as a pronoun. As in, “My mom said Dad was late coming home.” My before mom, makes it a pronoun, but Dad is used as a proper noun. Goes against all those “be consistent” rules we know.

9.     There are usually some problems too, with punctuation, especially with apostrophes and possessives. Apostrophes are used in contractions, that is a shortened version of two words, but never in abbreviations. Can’t instead of can not, it’s for it is (the possessive form of “it” never takes an apostrophe), and didn’t instead of did not. But CDs or 1860s wouldn’t take an apostrophe. 

Apostrophes (usually apostrophe followed by an s) are used, for possessive clauses. Mandy’s house. Tammy’s CDs. Do you see what I mean? Possessive forms of proper names take an apostrophe s even if they already end in s, such as Silas’s car. But here in the US, plural nouns and pronouns get the apostrophe without the s in the plural form. I visited Mandy’s parents’ house. Plural form of proper names get an “es” rather than a plain s, and no apostrophe. It's different in Brittain, but in the US, both the following are correct: “The Williams’ car,” for possessive, and “The Williamses came to dinner,” for plural. I know, confusing isn’t it?

10.     You should never quote from any copyrighted material directly without permission in writing from the publisher. And most of them will want to be paid. It’s okay to quote from Shakespeare or older editions of the Bible, because that material is in the Public Domain. But if the copyright is still active, as it is on The New Living Bible, or instance, that’s not okay to quote from. It’s okay to paraphrase song lyrics, to quote song titles, or book titles, to mention celebrities by name, but not to copy directly from any work. So you can name your character Sherlock Holmes or Scarlett O’Hara, if you want. Or you can have Kris Kristofferson singing“Bobby McGee,” or singing “about being broke and hitching rides in Baton Rouge.” But you canNOT have Kris sing, “Busted flat in Baton Rouge, headed for the train...”

11.     Be careful of  pronouns. The rule is a pronoun always refers to the preceding noun. But the important thing is not to confuse the reader. So if two people are present, a man and a woman and the name Mary is followed by “he” — that’s clear. But if the scene has two women and the “her” after Mary refers to the other woman, then the proper name should be used to avoid confusion.

12.     Always vary the language as much as you can. Guard against using the same word or phrase too close together. We all get "stuck" on a phrase from time to time, and this kind of problem crops up for every writer. Keep an eye, too, on how often required repetitive language such as pronouns and "said"s crop up. If you ever work in first person, look out for the "I"s. Try to keep the language as fresh as possible by paring those things down during your "self-editing" process.

We think words should be like soldiers doing drill. Each is necessary, each must march in line, in order for the formation to be complete. None should be out of step, or draw undue attention to itself, lest the formation (and the concentration of the reader) be broken. Try always to find just the right word. Avoid $40 words or thesaurus choices unless you look them up and are sure the actual definitions apply.

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