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Common Writing Mistakes

Common Writing ... 2004, Michael ... books aren't rejected because the stories ... They're rejected because they're not "ready toread." In short, minor stuff like typos, gr

Common Writing Mistakes
Copyright 2004, Michael LaRocca

Most books aren't rejected because the stories are
"bad." They're rejected because they're not "ready to
read." In short, minor stuff like typos, grammar,
spelling, etc.

I don't mean places where we, as authors,
deliberately break the rules. Those are fine. That's
part of our job. Language always changes with use,
and we can help it on its way. No, I'm referring to
places where someone just plain didn't learn the rule
or got confused or overlooked it during the
self-edits.

I've been editing novels for over three years.
Looking back at my experiences, I feel like sharing
the most common mistakes I've seen. If you'll go
through your manuscript and fix these before you
submit it to a publisher, your odds of publication
will increase dramatically.

Once you've found a publisher who publishes what you
write, you want to present yourself in the best way
possible. Submitting an unedited manuscript is a bit
like going to a job interview wearing a purple
Mohawk, no shoes, torn jeans, and a dirty T-shirt.
Your resume may be perfect, and your qualifications
impeccable, but something tells me you won't get the
job.

The publisher is investing a lot in every book it
accepts. E-publishers tend to invest loads of time,
and print publishers tend to invest an advertising
budget and the cost of carrying a large inventory.
Why ask them to invest hours and days of editing time
as well? If the publisher gets two or three or ten
nearly identical books, you want yours to be the one
requiring the least editing.

The first thing you need to do, and I hope you've
already done it, is use the spelling and grammar
checkers in your word processor. This will catch many
of the "common mistakes" on my list. But I've been
asked to edit many books where the author obviously
didn't do this, and I confess that I may well have
been lazy and let a couple of mine get to my editors
unchecked. Bad Michael!

There are some other valuable lists at the following
websites:

Common Errors in English
http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/errors

Words That Are Often Confused
http://lbarker.orcon.net.nz/words.html

Here's a list of the mistakes I see most often.

* Dialogue where everyone speaks in perfect English
and never violates any of the bullet points below.
Okay, I made that up. That's not really a common
problem at all. But I have seen it, and it's a
terrible thing.

* It's is a contraction for "it is" and its is
possessive.

* Who's is a contraction for "who is" and whose is
possessive.

* You're is a contraction for "you are" and your is
possessive.

* They're is a contraction for "they are," there is a
place, their is possessive.

* There's is a contraction for "there is" and theirs
is possessive.

* If you've been paying attention to the above
examples, you've noticed that possessive pronouns never use apostrophes. Its, whose, your, yours, their, theirs...

* Let's is a contraction for "let us."

* When making a word plural by adding an s, don't use
an apostrophe. (The cats are asleep.)

* When making a word possessive by adding an s, use
an apostrophe. (The cat's bowl is empty.)

* A bath is a noun, what you take. Bathe is a verb,
the action you do when taking or giving a bath.

* A breath is a noun, what you take. Breathe is a
verb, the action you do when taking a breath.

* You wear clothes. When you put them on, you clothe
yourself. They are made of cloth.

* Whenever you read a sentence with the word "that,"
ask yourself if you can delete that word and still
achieve clarity. If so, kill it. The same can be said
of all sentences. If you can delete a word without
changing the meaning or sacrificing clarity, do it.
"And then" is a phrase worth using your word
processor's search feature to look for.

* Keep an eye on verb tenses. "He pulled the pin and
throws the grenade" is not a good sentence.

* Keep an eye on making everything agree regarding
singular and plural. "My cat and my wife is
sleeping," "My cat sleep on the sofa," and "My wife
is a beautiful women" are not good sentences. (I
exaggerate in these examples, but you know what I
mean.)

* I and me, he and him, etc. I hope no editor is
rejecting any novels for this one, because I suspect
that most people get confused at times. In dialogue,
do whatever the heck you want because it sounds more
"natural." But for the sake of your narrative, I'll
try to explain the rule and the cheat. The rule
involves knowing whether your pronoun is the subject
or object. When Jim Morrison of The Doors sings, "til
the stars fall from the sky for you and I," he's
making a good rhyme but he's using bad grammar.
According to the rule, "you and I" is the object of
the preposition "for," thus it should be "for you and
me." The cheat involves pretending "you and" isn't
there, and just instinctively knowing "for I" just
doesn't sound right. (I think only native English
speakers can use my cheat. For the record, I have
great admiration for authors writing in languages
that aren't their native tongues.)

* Should of, would of, could of. This one can make me
throw things. It's wrong! What you mean is should
have, would have, could have. Or maybe you mean the
contractions. Should've, would've, could've. And
maybe 've sounds a bit like of. But it's not! Of is
not a verb. Not now, not ever.

* More, shorter sentences are better. Always. Don't
ask a single sentence to do too much work or advance
the action too much, because then you've got lots of
words scattered about like "that" and "however" and
"because" and "or" and "as" and "and" and "while,"
much like this rather pathetic excuse for a sentence
right here.

* On a similar (exaggerated) note: "He laughed a
wicked laugh as he kicked Ralphie in the face while
he aimed the gun at Lerod and pulled the trigger and
then laughed maniacally as Lerod twisted in agony
because of the bullet that burned through his face
and splattered his brains against the wall and made
the wall look like an overcooked lasagne or an
abstract painting." Now tell me this sentence isn't
trying to do too much.

* Too means also, two is a number, to is a
preposition.

* He said/she said. Use those only when necessary to
establish who's speaking. They distract the reader,
pulling him out of the story and saying, "Hey look,
you're reading a book." Ideally, within the context
of the dialogue, we know who's talking just by the
style or the ideas. When a new speaker arrives on the
scene, identify him or her immediately. Beyond that,
keep it to a minimum. Oh yeah, and give every speaker
his/her own paragraph.

* Billy-Bob smiled his most winning smile and said,
"What's a nice girl like you doing in a place like
this?" I don't like this. Use two shorter sentences
in the same paragraph. Billy-Bob smiled his most
winning smile. "What's a nice girl like you doing in
a place like this?" Same effect, fewer words, no
dialogue tag (he said).

* In the previous example, I don't like "smiled his
most winning smile," because it's redundant and also
cliched. Please, if you find yourself writing
something like that, try to find a better way to
express it before you just give up and leave it like
it is. During the self-edit, I mean, not during the
initial writing.

* "The glow-in-the-dark poster of Jesus glowed in the
dark." This editor won't let that one go. Much too
redundant, and it appeared in a published novel.

* Lie is what you do when you lie down on the bed,
lay is what you do to another object that you lay on
the table. Just to confuse matters, the past tense of
lie is lay. Whenever I hit a lay/lie word in reading,
I stop and think. Do that when you self-edit. (Note:
Don't fix this one in dialogue unless your character
is quite well-educated, because most people say it
wrong. I do.)

* Beware of the dangling modifier. "Rushing into the
room, the exploding bombs dropped seven of the
soldiers." Wait a minute! The bombs didn't rush into
the room. The soldiers did. To get all technical
about it, the first part is the "dependent clause,"
and it must have the same subject as the "independent
clause" which follows. Otherwise it's amateur,
distracting, and a real pain for your poor overworked
editor.

* If you are able (many readers are not), keep an eye
out for missing periods, weird commas, closing
quotes, opening quotes, etc. When I read a book, be
it an ebook or a printed book, I can't help but spot
every single one that's missing. They slap me upside
the head, which makes me a great editor but a lousy
reader. If you're like me, use that to your
advantage. If not, that's what editors are for!

Michael LaRocca's website at http://freereads.topcities.com was
chosen by WRITER'S DIGEST as one of The 101 Best Websites For
Writers in 2001 and 2002. He published two novels in 2002 and has
two more scheduled for publication in 2004. He also works as an
editor for an e-publisher. He teaches English at a university in
Shaoxing, Zhejiang Province, ChinaPsychology Articles, and publishes the free weekly
newsletter Mad About Books.

Article Tags: Common Writing

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Michael LaRocca’s website at http://freereads.topcities.com was
chosen by WRITER’S DIGEST as one of The 101 Best Websites For
Writers in 2001 and 2002. He published two novels in 2002 and has
two more scheduled for publication in 2004. He also works as an
editor for an e-publisher. He teaches English at a university in
Shaoxing, Zhejiang Province, China, and publishes the free weekly
newsletter Mad About Books.



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