. . . If you have a computer and can check out Editing 101 at Chris the Story Reading Ape’s blog. Susan Uttendorfsky of Adirondack Editing provides a host of FREE lessons on everything from “Removing Filter Words” (a must-read) to when to use “which” or “that.” I’ve found Susan’s posts to be accurate, clear, and friendly. Check them out!
Category Archives: style
This lively post by Aliette de Bodard at Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds blog not only defends semicolons but also encourages us to learn to use them well. My take: I’m an enemy of rigid rules, period. That said, there are some conventions writers really need to know, such as how to punctuate dialogue so it’s clear when it begins and ends. Readers get used to some of these conventions, and get jerked out of the story when their expectations are not met.
So whether to break a rule can really be a judgment call. Definitely: you best serve your prose if you know the rule, and the consequences of breaking it.
And by the way, I’ve been reading an awful lot of wonderful books that are unself-consciously replete with adverbs. I think I’m going to go back to some of my stripped-down paragraphs and slip those adverbs back in. Judiciously, of course. And in the dark of night.
Thanks, Jean! I’ve been using Thesaurus.com with excellent results—way better than that thin list on Word. But this tool looks even more useful. I’ll give it a try today and pass on my results.
Happens to me more than I’d like to admit!
I’ve found a tool to help!
I’m on a roll, typing like a maniac.
Until I stumble over a word.
My writing comes to a screeching halt. A word isn’t right. But I don’t want to stop my progress. After all, I’m a writing maniac. So I use a placeholder, I’ll come back to this section later and figure out the right word or words to convey my thoughts.
However, I’ve now got an itch I can’t scratch. That thought, that missing word or phase will not leave me alone.
Ever happen to you?
My protagonist whispers he can’t work like this, it’s too unprofessional.
Sigh, okay, I cave, save what little progress I’ve made and return to my placeholder. So I…
- Think, think, think, I’ve got nothing.
- Look up the placeholder word. Huh? Not even close. What was I thinking?
- Check thesaurus. What…
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Reading this piece from Nicholas C. Rossis, I couldn’t help giving a mental high-five. Starting sentences with gerunds (and various other odd bits of language) is absolutely okay! I would caution that starting sentences with -ing forms of verbs can all too easily lead to “dangling modifiers,” for example, “Reading this, it was a really good discussion of an issue we all face.” If you’re not sure why that sentence DOES contain a sentence-structure error, look up “dangling modifiers.” Returning, however, to the question of prescriptive versus descriptive language mavens, I ask only—well, mainly—that the parts of sentences hook up logically so that I can tell what modifies what and who’s doing what.
I have a feeling this is sliding into a rant. Check my series on “How Much Grammar Do You Need,” and here and here, for my largely descriptivist views.
When I published The Power of Six, my first collection of short stories, a reviewer said that the book had grammatical errors, albeit small ones. This shocked me, as the book had been professionally edited and proof-read. So, I reached out and asked her for an example. “You start a sentence with a gerund,” she said. “So?” I asked. “So, that’s wrong.”
I was baffled by this. Surely, that’s a matter of style, right?
This seemingly innocent question actually led me into a minefield. As The Economist points out, for half a century, language experts have fallen into two camps. Most lexicographers and academic linguists stand on one side, and traditionalist writers and editors on the other. The question that defines the to camps is deceivingly simple: should language experts describe the state of the language accurately? (Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, in 1961, shocked the world by including common…
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Fortunately for me, the members of both of the writing groups I belong to don’t traffic in most of these pointless prescriptions and proscriptions. I do, however, agree that too many people have a basic fear of the word “was.” As Allen points out, there’s a big difference between “I was reading when she came in” and “I read when she came in.” Also “had.” Sometimes the past perfect is just necessary. Do you have any “stupid rules” to add, or do you take exception to Allen’s judgment on these?
I love Anne R. Allen’s blog. I learn something new every time I visit. This is an excellent piece about bad writing advice. Check it out. Just click on the highlighted link below. ❤
Stupid Writing Rules: 12 dumb things new writers tell each other. Ignore this bad advice from misinformed people in critique groups.
Check out this discussion about the definition of literary fiction and add your opinion. While you’re at it, here’s literary agent Donald Maass’s answer. I like it. What do you think?
Here’s a great piece from Sue Vincent that echoes what I’ve often thought about those mechanical editing programs that try to lure us into their World of Rules.
I will add to this: The darn programs are all too often just plain wrong! Can’t tell you how many sentences Word’s editor labeled fragments, and how many actual fragments it missed! And any time a mechanical “editor” gives you a piece of advice about punctuation, check the editor’s rule against at least a couple of standard handbooks before kowtowing to some dictator’s orders.
I can’t say enough for real readers. Okay, so they, too, are sometimes “wrong.” Or wrong-headed. But a) they can and usually do explain why they reacted a certain way to something you wrote, and b) they respond to the very things the robots and aliens discussed in this article glide right past—the emotion, the rhythm, the energy, the joy.
Don’t pore over some grammar or editing site. Join a writers’ group!
From the archives – May 2015:
I was curious. Being a writer, I keep seeing articles about the editing software available online to help writers and, over coffee, I thought I would have a quick look. I browsed a number of them, duly pasting a chunk of text into their little blank boxes to see what they had to offer.
After five minutes, my blood was boiling.
Writers, it seems, are being encouraged to use these programmes. Not, as I mistakenly supposed, in order to check their grammar, spelling and punctuation… say, as an extension to spellcheck or as a different perspective on work we are too fond of, and too involved with, to see clearly. No. We are being encouraged to use them in order to erase our personal voice.
Okay, I know… that probably isn’t entirely fair.
There are those who swear by their usefulness, though these, I…
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