The opinions contained in this article are solely those of the author and not The Writers’ Collective.
Lisa Rojany Buccieri, COO & Publisher of NY Journal of Books—West, is a publishing executive and editor with over twenty years’ experience in the industry. She has granted permission to reprint portions of her helpful publication titled “Timeless Grammar and Formatting Pointers.” This week we’ll look at grammar.
RANDOM YET COMMON GRAMMATICAL ERRORS—
SOME SO COMMON THEY BEAR REPEATING!
* Do not mix present and past tense. Books are told in the past tense. Use ate instead of was eating (simple past tense instead of gerunds) unless you are talking about a time far before the time your book takes place.
* British written English is different from American English:
* This bears repeating: Get rid of all said tags: she said and he said. You rarely need them when there are only two speakers. Trust me.
* While you are eliminating the word that, do the same with the vague and lazy words it and thing. And get rid of as many “to be” verbs as well.
* Watch using clichés overall. You can set up MS Word to catch them. See Help in your menu.
Misplaced modifiers are another common mistake. They usually require rewriting. Modifiers should come, if possible, next to the words they modify. The goal is clarity. For instance, here’s one (slightly altered example) from Strunk & White’s Elements of Style:
You can call your mother and tell her all about Alfredo taking you out to lunch for 60 cents in El Salvador.
Alfredo did not manage to find a lunch that cost only 60 cents. Neither did he travel to El Salvador. The sentence should read:
For just 60 cents, you can call your mother in El Salvador and tell her about Alfredo taking you to lunch.
* Don’t start every other sentence with But or And or However. Old-school editors still hate that, and doing so has not been a regular part of American English usage for long enough to gain acceptance among the literati—or at least those who fancy themselves as such.
* OK or okay, but not O.K.
* TV or television, but not T.V.
* ID or identification, but not I.D.
* At the beginning of a sentence,
are not followed by a comma, but these are:
* There is rarely such a thing as an omniscient narrator in books these days. Publishers prefer a strong point of view that drives the book’s plot from beginning to end. That means choosing one POV (even if narrated in the third person voice) for each chapter, or alternating voices in alternating (and consistently alternating) chapters. Don’t change POV in a scene; avoid it in a chapter if you can.
* Indent for a new paragraph each time you switch speakers when writing dialogue. Each speaker gets her own indent, no matter how short or long her speech. And join up all body language or dialogue in the same paragraph to each speaker.
* Always spell check your document. Spell check is not always correct, though, so when in doubt find a good online dictionary or thesaurus. Never wing it if you are not sure.
* Contractions are and should be used in dialogue, because that’s just how people speak; however, in children’s books it is preferable not to use contractions in the narrative. The only exception is when you are writing in the first person point of view in a very conversational style or when eliminating a contraction would unnaturally torture the English language.
* Vary the rhythm and length of your sentences. Mix up long and short ones. Break up description with dialogue.
* Do not have names that sound alike in one manuscript. As a matter of fact, do not use names that start with the same letter, letter sound, or dipthong. And do not switch from a proper name to a nickname and back again willy nilly. Readers get easily confused—so do editors.
* This bears repeating as well: Don’t just jump from one scene to the next without a transition indicating a change in place or time. Put it this way: How would you feel if someone you were engaged in a deep conversation with at work on Wednesday were to simply disappear (Poof! Gone!) in the middle of speaking—and show up three days later in your bedroom to continue where she left off? Don’t treat your reader this way, either.
* Make sure someone with an eagle eye checks over your manuscripts before you submit them. Little errors like those enumerated here count to editors (and readers!), and making sure the pros you want to impress do not focus on something as silly as formatting or misspellings or bad transitions means they will spend more time on the content of your story instead.
A writer with a solid grasp of grammar is ahead of the pack. You may already know many of these common rules. You may be aware of mistakes writers make. But in case either of us ever has a brain-damaging stroke, we’ll have a good reminder doc for backup—and for use when we write something new and need to make sure we have covered all the important grammatical, superficial stylistic issues.
Formatting requirements, which are also important, will be covered in the next excerpt.
Reprinted by permission of Lisa Rojany Buccieri, © ESOLA http://www.EditorialServicesofLA.com
Lisa Rojany Buccieri has published over 100 books, including several award-winning and bestselling titles. She is also a publishing executive and editor with over 20 years of professional experience in the industry, and is the lead writer for Writing Children’s Books for Dummies Second Edition (2013). Her latest YA, Surviving the Angel of Death: The True Story of a Mengele Twin in Auschwitz, with Eva Kor, got a stellar review by Archbishop Desmond Tutu; it was released in paperback in 2012 and has been published in numerous languages.
As well as spearheading four publishing startups, Lisa has simultaneously run her own successful business, Editorial Services of L.A. since 1990. She has been Editorial/Publishing Director for Golden Books, Price Stern Sloan/Penguin Group USA, Intervisual Books, Gateway Learning Corp (Hooked on Phonics), and other established publishing houses.
Lisa is also Publisher & Editor in Chief of nyjournalofbooks.com, the premier online-only book review site.
Lisa loves working with new and published writers of fiction and general nonfiction for all ages, helping them make their work the best it can be. She lives with her family in Los Angeles.
She may be contacted at http://www.EditorialServicesofLA.com