I haven’t been posting much in recent days, but there is a good reason for it. My muse has gone wild and I’m currently working hard on my novel. It is coming along and I’m pleased, but there are certain times I stop to check grammar rules and see if I’m doing things right. To be honest, much of my first draft will still have tons of mistakes and break all kinds of rules. For that matter, so will my blog posts! Yet looking over the rules got me to thinking about which ones I tend to break the most or not think about at all.
This became particularly important to me after reading some book reviews on one of Amazon’s top-selling novels under the Kindle rankings. Some of you may have heard of it, The Hunger Games. Now keep in mind this is a trad published novel, but a few reviewers complained that it was full of bad grammar and prose which reduced their enjoyment. No idea how bad it may really be, I can’t say. Possibly the editors were allowing the author some artistic license, which isn’t uncommon. Writing styles will vary. I haven’t read the book myself, so can’t say one way or another. It’s YA and I don’t get into that genre very often. Yet a part of me is tempted to read the novel because all the bad reviews actually make it sound intriguing. Can’t explain it, but sometimes that happens. I like checking out books with controversy among readers because sometimes they turn out to be the best ones.
Anyway, the point is that if a novel released by a big publisher can get complaints on grammar, then my own writing would get nailed for sure! That means working on my issues. I figured others may appreciate a few highlights so I’m going to list some things here that might be useful for when you hit the editing stages of your own books. No one is ever going to like everything you do with your characters and story- we all know it is impossible to please everyone. Yet getting the grammar right is the one thing that can be done so at least readers and reviewers don’t gig you for it! Hopefully, some of you will find these reminders useful. I will also be providing links to the pages where I got these rules from so you can find the full explanation on them. The actual site is the following:
Now on to some examples of things I’ve looked at recently.
1) And also This is often redundant.
2) Basically, essentially, totally These words seldom add anything useful to a sentence. Try the sentence without them and, almost always, you will see the sentence improve.
3) Equally as Something can be equally important or as important as, but not equally as important.
4) Just Use only when you need it, as in just the right amount.
5) On account of Use because instead.
6) ‘Til Don’t use this word instead of until or till, even in bad poetry.
7) Very, really, quite (and other intensifiers) Like basically, these words seldom add anything useful. Try the sentence without them and see if it improves.
*There are many more examples on the site, but those are some of the ones that stood out to me.
-Italics do not include punctuation marks (end marks or parentheses, for instance) next to the words being italicized unless those punctuation marks are meant to be considered as part of what is being italicized: “Have you read Stephen King’s Pet Cemetary? (The question mark is not italicize here.) Also, do not italicize the apostrophe-s which creates the possessive of a title: “What is the Courant ‘s position on this issue?” You’ll have to watch your word-processor on this, as most word-processors will try to italicize the entire word that you double-click on.
-In writing the titles of newspapers, do not italicize the word the, even when it is part of the title (the New York Times), and do not italicize the name of the city in which the newspaper is published unless that name is part of the title: the Hartford Courant, but the London Times.
-If a word or phrase has become so widely used and understood that it has become part of the English language — such as the French “bon voyage” or the abbreviation for the latin et cetera, “etc.” — we would not italicize it. Often this becomes a matter of private judgment and context. For instance, whether you italicize the Italian sotto voce depends largely on your audience and your subject matter.
-It is important not to overdo the use of italics to emphasize words. After a while, it loses its effect and the language starts to sound like something out of a comic book.
-Use a comma to separate the elements in a series (three or more things), including the last two. “He hit the ball, dropped the bat, and ran to first base.” You may have learned that the comma before the “and” is unnecessary, which is fine if you’re in control of things. However, there are situations in which, if you don’t use this comma (especially when the list is complex or lengthy), these last two items in the list will try to glom together (like macaroni and cheese). Using a comma between all the items in a series, including the last two, avoids this problem. This last comma—the one between the word “and” and the preceding word—is often called the serial comma or the Oxford comma. In newspaper writing, incidentally, you will seldom find a serial comma, but that is not necessarily a sign that it should be omitted in academic prose.
-One of the most frequent errors in comma usage is the placement of a comma after a coordinating conjunction. We cannot say that the comma will always come before the conjunction and never after, but it would be a rare event, indeed, that we need to follow a coordinating conjunction with a comma. When speaking, we do sometimes pause after the little conjunction, but there is seldom a good reason to put a comma there.
-When a parenthetical element — an interjection, adverbial modifier, or even an adverbial clause — follows a coordinating conjunction used to connect two independent clauses, we do not put a comma in front of the parenthetical element.
- The Red Sox were leading the league at the end of May, but of course, they always do well in the spring. [no comma after “but”]
-An absolute phrase is always treated as a parenthetical element, as is an interjection. An addressed person’s name is also always parenthetical. Be sure, however, that the name is that of someone actually being spoken to. A separate section on Vocatives, the various forms that a parenthetical element related to an addressed person’s name can take, is also available.
- Their years of training now forgotten, the soldiers broke ranks.
- Yes, it is always a matter, of course, of preparation and attitude.
- I’m telling you, Juanita, I couldn’t be more surprised. (I told Juanita I couldn’t be more surprised. [no commas])
-Be careful not to use commas to set off quoted elements introduced by the word that or quoted elements that are embedded in a larger structure:
- Peter Coveney writes that “[t]he purpose and strength of . . .”
- We often say “Sorry” when we don’t really mean it.
*Once again, I did not list nearly all the rules and left out many of the common ones that most writers don’t have a problem remembering. The ones above are examples where it is easy to forget the right way to handle commas. Of course, some people are better at this than others so I don’t mean to insult anyone’s intelligence.
The last rule I’m going to cover is passive voice. It is something I am very aware of, but have a tough time handling it. Every writing guide will tell you passive is bad. One thing I liked about this site is that it gives a great example of when to use it. At least now I have a better idea of how to use passive in an acceptable manner. I’m also going to paste the chart for various passive verbs so everyone that isn’t familiar with them can know what to look for.
The passive forms of a verb are created by combining a form of the “to be verb” with the past participle of the main verb. Other helping verbs are also sometimes present: “The measure could have been killed in committee.” The passive can be used, also, in various tenses. Let’s take a look at the passive forms of “design.”
|Present perfect||The car/cars||has been||have been||designed.|
|Past perfect||The car/cars||had been||had been||designed.|
|Future||The car/cars||will be||will be||designed.|
|Future perfect||The car/cars||will have been||will have been||designed.|
|Present progressive||The car/cars||is being||are being||designed.|
|Past progressive||The car/cars||was being||were being||designed.|
-We use the passive voice to good effect in a paragraph in which we wish to shift emphasis from what was the object in a first sentence to what becomes the subject in subsequent sentences.
The executive committee approved an entirely new policy for dealing with academic suspension and withdrawal. The policy had been written by a subcommittee on student behavior. If students withdraw from course work before suspension can take effect, the policy states, a mark of “IW” . . . .
The paragraph is clearly about this new policy so it is appropriate that policy move from being the object in the first sentence to being the subject of the second sentence. The passive voice allows for this transition.
There are many excellent examples of how passive is used on the site I linked above, and anyone who is having trouble with this grammar element should definitely check it out! I think it makes a huge difference in understanding passive and its many forms.
The topics above are only a small sampling of the numerous rules writers must keep in mind. I am not an expert and so borrowed a site I found helpful to use here. Most of the information was copied directly from there, but the section titles are linked so you can find further details and examples. I know some people are stronger in this area, but it never hurts to run through the rules again every so often so we don’t forget.
Hope everyone had a happy holidays!