Category Archives: grammar

Avoiding Apostrophe Catastrophe–Repeat Performance

Hey, all, Suze here. I’m deep in the editing cave (working on both my own first book, which is due to my wonderful editor soon, and another project for someone else), so I thought I’d repeat my post on apostrophes from a while ago.

The apostrophe is the most misused punctuation mark out there. To me, incorrect use of the apostrophe and  spelling and homonym errors (I’ll discuss spelling and homonyms in a future post) are big hot pink neon signs that flash “inexperienced writer who hasn’t taken the time to polish.” Almost everybody can learn and implement these rules. And if for some reason you can’t or don’t want to (and of course there are valid reasons why this might be true), you need to find a friend or hire someone who can to go over your work before you put it out there into the world. We’re professionals, right? You wouldn’t go out of the house with uncombed hair or a big smear of powdered sugar on your tee shirt from the donut you just scarfed down, would you? Same with your writing. So here’s what I had to say about apostrophes:

Today’s topic is serious and, well, I hope you can handle it.  I’m talking about … punctuation.

Please don’t cringe in horror and run away screaming.  Many writers think of grammar and punctuation as something scary, mysterious, or incomprehensible.  I’m here, at the request of our Casey Wyatt, to let you know that it’s not.  You really don’t need to be able to define gerunds, or the subjunctive, or even the pluperfect, although those words are fun to say.  If you are already pretty good at this stuff, please stick around through to the end, because there might just be a reward!

Honestly, there are not that many grammar or punctuation rules a writer needs to follow.  This isn’t eighth grade, and no diagramming of sentences on a chalkboard in front of the whole class is required.  Most books have plenty of grammar “mistakes,” but guess what?  Good writing doesn’t have to be grammatically perfect.  It’s usually better when it isn’t, so it doesn’t sound stilted and formal.  Voice doesn’t really come through if your novel reads like a dissertation.

Let’s start with the apostrophe. You know this little guy. Here he is: ‘  (Waving madly.  Say hi!) This poor thing gets used and abused a lot. But he should really only be making an appearance in a few situations.

To take the place of letters removed in a contraction: don’t (do not), can’t (can not)  Or, if you’re writing Highland romance: Ye’ll be pressin’ that kilt, Connor McConnorhaughtlocheniantyre, before ye’ll be leavin’ my house.

To show possession:

  • If the noun showing possession is singular, use ‘s — Fiona’s snowy white arms.  Connor’s rippling abdominals.  This is true even if the singular noun ends in s — Hans’s luxurious blond hair.
  • If the noun showing possession is plural, place the apostrophe at the end – the Highland clans’ war.  The Joneses’ mailbox.

Special rules regarding the words its and it’s:

  • Use it’s ONLY in place of the words it is or it has — It’s been great knowing you Connor, but I must say good-bye.
  • Use its to show possession — The cave bear was fiercely protective of its lair.

Related to the above:

  • Never, ever, ever use an apostrophe if a pronoun is already possessive: its, hers, his, theirs, ours, yours, etc. (not it’s, her’s, his’s, their’s …)

And please:

  • Never, ever, ever use an apostrophe plus s to make a noun (person, place or thing) plural (more than one)–The cave bear’s ran after Connor (the cave bear’s what ran after Connor?). Correctly punctuated: The cave bears ran after Connor. (See the difference? The second sentence tells us that more than one bear is chasing Connor. Hope he got away!)

There are other rules, but these are the basics. If you have any questions, check out this site, which explains virtually every situation clearly: http://www.grammarbook.com/punctuation/apostro.asp.  You can also contact me, and I’ll do my best to answer your questions.

Now, for those of you who stuck with me through the lecture, here’s your treat … a gratuitous hunk!  I can’t post a picture due to copyright rules, but here’s a link for you: click here to see my number 1 pick to play Connor McWhat’shisname in the movie version of my hypothetical highland romance.

Do you have any pesky punctuation questions you want answered today?  If not, tell me about one of your high school English teachers.

Are you repeating yourself?

PJ here. I love the editing process. Well…love might be too strong a word. What I do love, though, is learning my strengths and weaknesses as a writer, and layering my story with the fine brush strokes that hopefully make the characters leap off the page and the plot keep readers riveted.

As I’m reading through a printed copy of WESTERN DESERT, my editor’s voice rings in my ear.

Coming June 24, 2013!
Coming June 24, 2013!
She has pointed out a specific weakness many times, but I couldn’t see it for myself until I read it on a printed page. There are just some things my eyes don’t pick up on the computer screen. In my case, it’s the glaringly repetitious -ing sentence structure that results in lots of “telling”. It seems I have a habit of structuring my sentences as follows:

We stopped only when necessary and took turns driving, making good time and closing in on our destination.

All in all, it’s not a horrible sentence, but repeating this pattern frequently can really bog down the writing. This is clearly a case of “telling”–beginning with a subject/verb construction, using –ing words, and making it a weak sentence that is unnecessarily long. Ooops! I did it again! Did you catch it? I’ve used two phrases connected by a comma, requiring me to use the gerund form of the verb in the second phrase. Darn it! I did it yet again! I can’t seem to help myself, LOL. Believe me, it was an eye opener when I finally saw it. Hopefully, I’ve taken care of the problem through most of the manuscript. If not, I’m certain my second round with an editor will catch it.

As for strengths, I’ve been told I have a knack for description. Here’s an example of using description to ground the reader in place and to paint a picture of the scene.

In the distance the Western mountain ranges turned a deep purple under clouds of smoke from wild-fires gone unmanaged. The coastal winds from the ocean beyond carried the wayward flames toward the desert, but with nothing but sand and cactus, they would die of starvation long before they reached us or the city of Las Vegas.

Although this could be considered telling, in just a few sentences you get a clear picture of the environment and lots of information about what’s happening. Like most writers, I struggle with brevity—the art of saying more with fewer words—but I’m definitely improving.

Do you know your strengths and weaknesses? Do you have any particularly stubborn habits that bog down your writing?

Nanowrimo-ing Monkey #3 – English!!!!!

Hidey-Ho Scribblers – J Monkeys here coming at you from the very end of day 16 of 2012 Nanowrimo.  Don’t know about Nano?  Click here.  Of the 60,000 words I want to write in November, I’ve got 22,000 done so far. 

But here’s the thing…I write in English and sometimes that pesky language trips me up.  For example, last week, I read the book Sanctus (click here for my review – well, really more of an endorsement) had plenty of characters to route for.  Or rout for.  Or as it turns out, root for. 

Ooooooooh – the English language can be a nightmare!  Family lore says that of the four languages my great-grandfather spoke fluently, English was the hardest one for him to master.  I can see why.  I’ve blogged before about how our fine language got this way (click here) but man, those homophones kill me! 

Sure, I’ve got my its/it’s down pat and my there/their/they’re and my to/too/two, but it’s these less frequently used homophones that get me every time.  Homophones, for those who don’t remember their 4th grade grammar lessons, are words that are pronounced the same but have different meanings.  Check out the bit in Wikipedia – I did not know that homophones which are spelled differently are actually called heterographs. 

Route (as it turns out) is a path for traveling, rout is an overwhelming defeat and root can either be the part of a plant that leaches nutrients from the ground or a way of cheering someone on.  Seriously?!  How can one word (root) have two so different meanings?  Well, let’s not forget about “cleave” which is both a homonym and an antonym with it’s two meanings: to cling and to split.  Evidently we can blame the Germans for that one – both words are from Old High German. 

I’ve written before about my trouble with peek, peak and pique.  And grill/grille.  Don’t think spell check or even grammar check are going to help you there.  I can’t tell you how often grammar check wants me to use the wrong ‘there.’  Frustrating!

These crazy words and their meanings are particularly hard for beginning readers.  I’ve got one living in my house and we’ve developed a particular cheer for those times when English makes no sense at all.  Ready?

Make fists with both hands, raise them above your head, look down toward the floor and shake those fists yelling through clenched teeth, “Ennnnngliiiissshhhhhhhh!” 

Yes, I stole this coping technique from my friends the Peacocks (and yes, I borrowed their colorful last name for my pirate in The Peacock’s Tale).  I’ve borrowed another great English coping mechanism from them, too.   Rating words on a scale from everyday to never-to-be-used.  But that’ll be the topic of next week’s blog.  Stay tuned!

Today’s secret: I have a bachelor’s degree in English – meaning I’ve studied it longer than many folks – and it still trips me up!

Today’s question: what words trip you up?

Revision Plans

It’s “one more chapter Tuesday,” Scribettes. At least it is for me. PJ Sharon here, and as I approach my final chapter of my first draft of WANING MOON, I’m already pondering revisions. There won’t be any “letting it rest” for me. Not because I don’t believe in the practice of putting some distance between writer and story before digging into revisions, but because my production schedule doesn’t allow for it this time. I’m already behind schedule, so it’s onward ho!

 I know, based on early feedback from critique partners and my red pen queen, Carol, that I have problems with too much telling, repetitive sentence structure, and a few plot holes that look more like giant pot holes. I’m thinking that my first read thru needs to be a straight-on plot check to make sure all the dots connect, especially since this is the first book of a trilogy. I need to make sure that whatever subplots I leave open will be addressed in the next book. Although I’m not a big “plotter” per se, I’ll definitely be keeping notes this time around to ensure continuity in the next two books. We don’t want Will’s eyes turning from blue to green in book two. There will be story threads that will remain open ended in books one and two that need to wrap up by the final book. At the same time, there are plot points that need to get resolved in this book so that there is some kind of satisfying ending. Tricky thing this trilogy business.

My second trip through, after I rewrite or slash and burn any scenes that don’t move the story forward, I’ll be looking for ways to deepen characterization, layer in subtext, and refine word choice. That’s about the time I’ll be looking for feedback from critique partners about what else might not be working, whether the actions of the characters ring true and are properly motivated, and if the pacing gets bogged down anywhere. I’ll keep tweaking for a few more read-thrus until I feel I’ve done as much as I can on my own, and then it’s off to one of my friendly editors for deep edits—the stuff that makes an author’s hair curl when they see how much they have to fix . I currently have three editors on my short list, but whoever is available and can meet my deadlines will get it first. If I have time, I may go through three rounds of editing before I feel satisfied that the book is ready to go to first print with Createspace.

First prints will go out to Beta readers and also to a proof reader to catch any typos or spelling errors. Once I get all of this feedback, I’ll dive into my semi-final edits. Then it’s off to the copy-editor for one more look and back to me for final edits and a second printing. These prints are considered ARCs and may go out to reviewers or contest winners. I’m only allowed a few of these at a time through Createspace, but I’ll make good use of them, even if there are a few errors. Hopefully, by the time I’m ready for the third printing when I upload to Amazon, BN, and Smashwords, I’ll have a nice clean finished product.

Whew! I’m tired thinking about it. Of course this is an ideal plan, but we all know how plans have a way of changing. The kicker is that I have about 8-10 weeks to make it all happen and I’ve learned that when depending on others to meet my deadlines, all bets are off. It’s just part of the business. Add to the mix, book cover designs and marketing and I’ve definitely got my work cut out for me. But first things first…or last, as in finish up that last chapter. So that’s what I’m doing today.

What are you all up to? Any revision strategies you’d like to share before I dive in? I’d love to hear your suggestions.

I Was A Freelance Manuscript Reader

Thea Devine here, with a true confession:  Long ago in a publishing landscape far away (and over the course of the next twenty-five years),  I read manuscripts for several mass market publishing houses, back before electronic transmissions, back when we were writing 500 pp. books on real paper.

I read historical and contemporary romance, romantic suspense, women’s fiction, mysteries, sagas, fiction for reprint, and non-fiction, agented and slush.  And I assure you every proposal was looked at, no matter what form it arrived in — single spaced, cursive font, unchaptered, block paragraphs, handwritten, buried in popcorn. strangled in rubber bands.

And there were always manuscripts;  just the number of conferences across the country on a weekly basis assured that.  But after National — the deluge.

During those years, I never had an editor tell me what to look for, what they didn’t want to see.  Nothing was culled before it landed on the reader’s shelf.

But really — it was always about the story.  Those grab and go opening pages still grab editors..  And they really do know it when they see it..

But what the editor told me when she hired me was, don’t be afraid to be wrong.

Think about that.   Don’t be afraid to be wrong.  Because what if you passed up another Gone With The Wind or DaVInci Code?  What if the manuscript you loved was shot down and rejected by the editor and then became a best-seller for another publisher? (It happened).  What  if … in the fragile world of publishing as it was then, and is now, so dependent on the subjective opinion of reader and editor.

Don’t be afraid of rejection.  Because the editor could be wrong.  And if the editor could be wrong, then a rejection doesn’t t mean you wrote the worst book ever.  It just means this book didn’t move the editor or it didn’t fit into a particular marketing slot.

That still holds true.  The market itself will judge a book, in this new publishing milieu, if not an editor in a publishing house.   All you can do is write.

Some writing secrets from the reader:

It’s the story. It’s always been the story.  It’s how you get into the story.  Get your characters moving.  Make sure the inciting incident is critical, grabs the reader, and requires your characters to do something.

Conflict.   Your protagonists can’t want the same things (his family stole her family’s business;  she wants to get it back; he wants to give it back), even though they can want the same thing (an object of desire — like the Grail in Indy 3).

Pile it on.  The more obstructions, obstacles and problems you present your protagonists, the harder it will be for an editor — or reader — to put your manuscript down.

Grammar counts.  Sorry.  No dangling participles.  Subject and verb must agree.  A line edit takes forever on a manuscript that needs a lot of work.

Motivation.  Why exactly did your heroine go into the burning mine when everyone specifically cautioned her not to?  There are always reasons why your characters do what they do. Make sure your reader buys into it.

Make sure the ending holds up after all the build up.

Have you ever been rejected?  How did you handle it?  Do you think a publisher using readers is a good thing or bad?

The Most Interesting Writer in the World

Hello, darlings! Suze here. Today’s post is just for fun.  Let me introduce you to a friend of mine. He’s … The Most Interesting Writer in the World. Here’s a little bit about him:

Stay creative, my friends

His participles dangle, yet he is all the more attractive because of it.

He head hops — and gets away with it.

He does not submit to publishers. Publishers submit to him.

Killed a man in Reno — not to watch him die, but for incorrect use of an apostrophe.

Reviewers ask him to review their reviews.

His books stay on the shelves at Barnes and Noble until he says it’s time to remove them.

Successfully puts “i” before “e” — even after “c.”

Literary agents pay him 15% of what they earn.

Gave style tips to Strunk & White.

Nobly dumped Scarlett O’Hara so Rhett Butler could have her.

Actually wrote Shakespeare’s plays.

Stephen King asks him for writing advice.

Has solved The Mystery of Edwin Drood — twice.

Received a million dollar advance — for a single Facebook post.

His subjects and objects all agree: He IS the most interesting writer in the world!

Now for you. Know any Most Interesting or Chuck Norris facts? If not, what’s your favorite tv commercial?

The Proof is in the Pudding

Welcome to Tuesday at the Scribes. I’d like to talk about pudding…well…really I’d like to talk about proofing. Proofreading, that is. But first, since I don’t want to be accused of false advertising, I’ve included my favorite recipe for Bread Pudding on our Scribe’s Savories and Sweets recipe page. There’s nothing low fat or cholesterol free about this yummy comfort inducing dessert, which doubles for breakfast in a pinch, (eggs+bread+milk=breakfast), but it was one of my dad’s specialties. My dad made the best peanut butter fudge on the planet. His bread pudding was a close second, although he would be the first to give credit to Betty Crocker. He always said that the secret to his success was in the details. I couldn’t agree more.

 This leads me to my real reason for being here today. When it comes to producing a quality product, whether it be for publication or contest entries, the importance of proofreading cannot be overstated. And the more eyes, the better.

Part of my indie-pub process after the book has been professionally edited, is ordering proof copies from CreateSpace a few weeks before I upload to Kindle Direct Publishing, B&N Pub-it, and Smashwords. I give one to my editor to read through again, and I hand off a couple of copies to beta readers willing to write reviews and give me feedback. I go through my copy with a fine-tooth comb, finding a remarkable amount of typos, overused words, weak verbs, punctuation problems and formatting issues. It’s not that I haven’t been through the manuscript a hundred times already, but my eyes miss things on the computer that they pick up on the printed page.

It takes me a week to read through and mark up my copy. I try to read it like an editor, being picky about word choices, characterization, and adding depth or cutting anything non-essential. I’m basically looking for anything I need to change at the last minute to make the book really shine. From the missing quotation mark at the end of a sentence to ‘does the last line of the book tie it all together?’ I then collect feedback from my editor and my readers, make all the necessary changes to both the inside content and the cover of the book, and then upload again to CreateSpace. I order a second round of proof copies, go through it all again on my own, as well as having it proof read one more time, and  then do a final upload.

At this point I order about fifty hardcopies to start. I’m relatively certain I can sell, gift, or use that many copies for reviews and giveaways, but it’s not so many that I’m “stuck” with them if there are any remaining errors that got by me and my team. One of the nice things about self-publishing is that if I still find errors, I can go back and fix them before I print any more hardcopies. I can also make corrections at any time on my digital copies, which takes a lot of the stress out of trying to get it exactly perfect. Since I’m all for saving myself time and headaches, however, I try to make it as best I can on the first print run.

 You’d think after three projects, I’d have it down to a science, but no matter how many times I go through one of my books, I can always find something that needs fixing or changing. So before I do that final upload, I do hire a proofreader–someone who does this for a living. I pay this woman about $100, and it is money well spent. Even after all the eyes that have been on the book, she still finds a significant amount of tiny details that need fixing. She catches misplaced commas, compound words that I missed, and any misspellings that don’t show up on spell check that I and my editor may have missed.

Each time I’ve gone through this process, I’ve been down to the wire on getting those hardcopies back in time for my release date. This time is no different. I’ll have my second proof copy of SAVAGE CINDERELLA this Thursday, do a final read-through and have my “proofer” go through it, and do my upload on Sunday to get my final copies for the 15th. I pay some whopping shipping fees for that kind of turn-around time, but it’s a necessary evil to get it right and get it quick. No monkeying around. I’ll admit that I stress myself out a bit by cutting it so close and being so picky, but I can’t seem to do it any other way. I bet my dad would approve of my method. And to ease the stress, I can always bake some bread pudding while I wait.

How do you ensure that your work is “perfect” before you submit? Do you have a proof reader, critique partner, or beta readers? Any ideas on how I can streamline my process?