Tag Archives: grammar

Don’t Be Guilty of #Word Crimes!

Hey there! Casey here!

Recently, Weird Al released another album which shot straight to number 1 on the Billboard Chart. Not since 1963 has a comedy album taken the top spot. Kudos to Weird Al!

And lucky for us writers, he’ s addressed a pressing issue – #Word Crimes! Please watch the following instructional video.

Be sure to laugh out loud if you feel so moved!


And then, please reflect upon Weird Al’s wisdom.

In an age where social media reigns supreme, it does seem like grammar is becoming a lost art. Sure, for us writers, solid knowledge of grammar is a must.  But it wasn’t until I chortled my way through this song, that I realized how many of these  mistakes also drive me mad.

Now, to be fair, before I began seriously writing, I’d forgotten some of those rules too. Comma placement continues to stump me. See the previous sentence – I probably used too many commas.  I don’t always punctuate dialog properly and the distinction between blond and blonde often baffles me (largely because publishers all handle it differently).

I am, by no means, a grammar nit-picker but one thing that does drive me nuts is spelling words wrong on purpose.

I’m looking at you SyFy Channel. For shame!!

I’m curious to know – which grammar mistakes drive you batty?


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?

Just Write: Grammar Time!

Hey, V here.  First of all, when you look at the subtitle of this post: Grammar Time! I want you to hear MC Hammer in your head.  Can you hear it?  Grammar Time (da na na nut, na nut, na nut).  I just spent the morning helping my way-past-elementary-school sister with her Business English homework.   Today’s topic was Possessive Nouns.  Cue Beethoven’s 5th (Da na na na…..) 

English is hard!  Even for a native English speaker. Wanna know why?  Here’s a brief history of the English Language. 

When Rome fell to Alaric and the Visigoths in 410, the Romans could no longer defend the empire.  Outlying areas like Britannia were among the first to be overrun by other tribes.   There’s lots of dispute among historians about why the Angles, Saxons and Jutes (among other tribes) pushed off their homelands in what is now Germany and moved into England, but they did and brought with them, their Germanic language.  This became known as Anglo-Saxon or Old English. 

Let me dispel a little myth here: Shakespeare is not Old English.  It’s a somewhat archaic, poetic, modern English.   If you don’t read German, then this Old English will look like Greek to you:

Hwæt! We Gardena     in geardagum,
þeodcyninga,     þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas     ellen fremedon.
Oft Scyld Scefing     sceaþena þreatum

Hey, I was an English Literature major in college with a minor in German.  I studied Anglo-Saxon for a semester and I still can’t make heads or tails out of that passage!   It’s the opening of Beowulf.  So our language started out as Old English, then in 1066 William the Conqueror conquered.   He was from Normandy, France and brought with him, Norman French.  French, of course, is a Latin language.  It became the official language of the ruling class and as centuries passed, the Old English of the peasantry merged with Norman French to become Middle English

Middle English was the language of Chaucer.  Here’s the opening of the Canterbury Tales in Middle English:

Whan that aprill with his shoures soote, The droghte of march hath perced to the roote, And bathed every veyne in swich licour, Of which vertu engendred is the flour;

OK, Middle English is still pretty hard to read but at least it looks like words.  And if you read it out loud, phonetically you hear words:

When that april with his showers sweet, the draft of march hath pierced to the root, and bathed every vein in such liquor of which virtue engendered is the flower. 

Then there was one more big thing to bring us to Modern English (I’ll stop the world and melt with you…no, no. Not that Modern English).  The Great Vowel Shift. 

The Great Vowel Shift was a change in pronunciation that happened between the years 1350 and 1500.  At the same time, spelling was becoming standardized in English and that’s why we have such unruly spelling!  But the long and short of it is, vowel sounds shifted.  Short ‘a’ might have sounded like short ‘e’ before the switch.  ‘Whan’ at the beginning of the ME Canterbury Tales is now ‘When’.

Then, of course, we reach the Bard and his version of Modern English.  Here’s my favorite sonnet, #130:

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red ;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

Today’s Secret: English is hard because instead of being one language, it’s really two from opposing root languages, Germanic and Latin.  But that history gives us great variety in our words.  I heard once that there are some languages with only one word for all shades of red.  English has hundreds of words for red.  And that is what makes writing in English so fun.  Shakespeare’s mistress’ breath might reek, and your mistress’ breath might be foul, and mine might just be funky. 

When you write, just write the way you speak (yet another type of English – vernacular!).  You can go back and fix the Grammar Time! (You’re hearing MC Hammer aren’t you?) later.  There are lots of wonderful sites to answer your grammar questions. 

Grammar Divas

Grammar Girl

Ask Grammar

And of course, every writer should have a grammar reference guide on her desk.  Strunk & White’s Elements of Style is the gold standard, but I LOVE Eats, Shoots & Leaves, by Lynne Truss for punctuation guidelines.  And it’s funny too!  The important thing is this: Don’t let grammar get in the way of just writing.

Apparently Possessive Nouns is my sisters English troublespot.  So what’s your favorite English pitfall?

Spell check isn’t your friend

Hi!  I’m J Monkeys, crafter of fine stories for children.  OK, well that’s probably not true depending on your definition of ‘fine’, but it is true that I’m working on several fun reading adventures for kids.  My first novel, The Cordovan Vault, is available in print and ebook format (see the books page on this lovely blog for more info) and my first picture book for beginning readers, Dixie and Taco Go To Grandmother’s House, is available in print. (ditto, re info).  And there’s more of both on the way.  But today’s post isn’t supposed to be about selling my books, it’s a writing secret.

So, here’s a not-so-secret writing secret: spell check really isn’t your friend.  I know, we all feel that we can’t get along without it.  I certainly do – I’m a terrible speller, always have been.  My 6-year-old recently had a homework assignment where she had to come up with a word that starts with each letter of the alphabet.  For “T” she picked Tiffany.  Sadly, I had no idea how to spell it and her homework went back to school poorly spelled.  (Of course, I could have looked it up as I did for this post, but she’s in kindergarten so I didn’t get too worked up about it.)

Of course you should always spell check your work, but that isn’t enough.  You’ve got to have someone else proofread it.  Yes, I said “someone else”.  You know what your work is supposed to say, and the eye will see that, even if it isn’t what’s written on the page.  Evidently, I have trouble with homophones (words that sound the same but are spelled differently and different meanings).  Spell check won’t help you there, nor if you write the wrong word but it’s spelled correctly.  Here are a few examples of how spell check left me high and dry.

In the limited first edition of The Cordovan Vault, I have characters who peak instead of peek.  The only reason they don’t pique is because it didn’t come to mind while I was writing.  (Seriously, what’s the deal with English that we need 3 homophones for peek?!)  There is a stainless steal kitchen counter that became a stainless steele counter in the second edition instead of a stainless steel counter.  In the unlikely event that I write a third edition, I’ll fix it there.  (Sometimes, you just have to let go and move on, people – see yesterday’s timely blog by Casey Wyatt on that topic.)

I recently read a book that troubled me.  I won’t tell you the title, but it was a good premise and plot.  It just had a lot of editorial problems.  It was wicked long, for one thing, but it held my interest and I ignored (or mocked to my friends) the problems for the most part.  About 20 pages before the end, though, I nearly threw in the towel.  Honestly, if I hadn’t invested two weeks reading this thing, I would have dropped it right there.  The problem: the suppository of knowledge.  Now I don’t know if this was supposed to be a repository of knowledge or perhaps a depository of knowledge, but I am positive that this knowledge wasn’t taken anally.

Today’s Scribe’s Secret Unlocked: Spell check is not a substitute for an editor/proofreader.  Find a friend and proof each other’s work if you can’t afford to hire someone.  Seriously.