Don’t let simple grammar rules trip up a great story

Sometimes a book cannot wait to be born. The characters are alive inside you and begging to come out. They keep interrupting you no matter what other activity you are engaged in. Ariel and Tyler must be born!

The minute you get the chance you head for your computer and the story just flows out of you. You write and write until their story has been told. You go back and make sure the dialogue isn’t stilted and the sex scenes are steamy. You check that there is just the right amount of conflict and the girl doesn’t get the boy too easily, even though they are a love for the ages.

But did you check to make sure there is a comma before a dialogue tag? That your use of capital letters is not only correct, but that you in fact did use them?

When the story is pouring out of you, it is easy to forget to hit the shift key, remember to use any punctuation, fall into the passive voice trap and sprinkle the manuscript with filler words.

If an editor spends too much time correcting basic grammar, they can miss the bigger picture. There is room for improvement on every story – hard to believe sometimes I know! Getting bogged down in taking out the word “that” and making sure dialogue is written properly as “The bed was cold without you in it,” she said can often cause an editor to fall short of making your story the best it can be.

It can also delay the publishing date if the editor decides she is just going to take the time to do it all. We cannot have readers missing a moment of your wonderful prose!

As an English professor for a community college, I often thought some students were just being lazy. That in the excitement of the “great idea”, they forgot about the grammar rules they learned in elementary school. Now while this may be true of 19 year olds, some of us forty-something writers honestly and truly need a refresher.

Thankfully, the Internet doesn’t lack for good places to help us polish up our grammar. If you like to listen to podcasts while cleaning, exercising, or driving Grammar Grater by Minnesota Public Radio on iTunes is a good one. My favorite to listen to in the car is the Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips also found at iTunes. I like to listen to her when no one else is around as I often find myself laughing out loud! There are many others for all levels, including English as a Second Language. All free.

The Grammar Girl also has a website where in short articles she explains many of the rules that confuse us. A website set up a lot like a grammar book is The site is filled with the basics of grammar and punctuation. If neither of these sites meet your needs, just Google the problem and hundreds of other grammar sites will pop up. Many are run by well known universities.

I tend to confuse myself, especially when writing or editing late at night or early in the morning before a cup of coffee. These few tips help keep me on the straight grammar path! If you are like me, you want your editor to know you can really write and not just tell a good story! While yes, I have trouble editing my own work (I fear what this may actually look like when put up on the blog!), I do not want her to catch the same “lazy” or “silly” mistake over and over. I do know how to use commas and how to write in an active voice.

As tedious as grammar is at times it is what helps readers understand what we are trying to say.

This post is courtesy of Colleen McSpirit– Secret Cravings Publishing Editor


Posted on September 19, 2011, in New introduction. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. the first time i had an editor red letter one of mine was a real wake up call on how much I’d forgotten. Needless to say, it wasn’t accepted. the nice lady just took the time to edit about 4 pages and put me in shock. I used those pages as a guide and self edited. the next time it was accepted. it does make a difference, people,.

  2. And its worse if your editor throws up her hands and decides she can’t be bothered (or doesn’t have the time) to save you from yourself. I was recently asked to read a book and write a review for an acquaintance, and after downloading and reading the forty-page sample, I had to tell him that the editing at the press he was with had done his writing a disservice. His completed and published e-book had so many grammar and punctuation errors, I could barely wade through the sample and couldn’t have given it more than a three-star review. It just looked that unprofessional.

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