How To: Creative Writing Tips 2: Grammar
Welcome to the second installment of the "How To: Creative Writing Tips". This article will tackle the impalpable subject of grammar. In particular, I will outline some commonly read but often misunderstood mistakes that even seasoned writers brand. And as a bonus, I have written an extensive list of the most perplexing quandaries found in the English language. I implore you to bookmark this list and refer to it often during your quest for perfection! And finally, we will get to the heart of the matter and answer the question, "Why is writing with bad grammar such a big deal?"
Onward! Let us consider for a moment...
Welcome to the 2nd enstalmnt of the "howto wright series that is about use'n really; really --good grammer in writing [the kind we learn] and i'm very xcited that your hear to learn how to wright good. I choosed to wright bout grammer b/c I want you to win and not loose in the battle of that war against not so good grammer , its amazing to me how much more mistakes there are and how it can effect you're writing!!!
Could you imagine reading a novel or poem chock-full of such blunders? Notably, the above paragraph has been purposefully administered with morbid concoctions of confusion. Chances are, you will not read such a disaster of a paragraph; chances are. However, it is with regret that I must admit I have read such stories that would run a close second to this most heinous text. In the first installment of this series, "Getting Started", we faced our demons and began our journey to becoming a better writer. We expelled all excuses and discovered that there is nothing to fear but fear itself, and we learned how to turn that fear into motivation. Our success in getting started has now led us to our first battle.
The Battle Begins
On the battlefield our charge is carved into the fields that our foes claim as homeland! Our footprints heavily sink into the muddy soil beneath. Our quest is to conquer the adversary of despicable writing. We stand face to face with a snarling beast that wishes nothing more than to thrust through our breasted plates of armor and take from us our last breath. This beast we call Grammar and though his scent reeks of disdain and contempt, with a rapacious appetite for his obedience, we shall slay him. We shall not falter and we shall not fail! We need not ask the writers of our history to be kind, for we shall indeed rise together as ONE and write our own history- Nay! Our Legend! Let the slaying BEGIN!
Grammar can be a beast. Excluding poetry, it is demanded for all well written literary work. As I stated in the introduction to this course, creative writing is a form of advanced communication. But the vessel that gets our message across is in fact: grammar. Knowing when to stop a sentence, when to add a comma or a semi-colon. Knowing the different types of spellings for words that sound the same yet have different meanings is what separates an average writer from a good writer. But let's strive for better than good, better than great, and approach eminence! I have to be honest, I gave up on memorizing grammar rules years ago. It seemed every year the formats were changing, the rules were shifting, and what was once outlawed, is now dogma. Thankfully, finding the correct answer is always just a click away! To my good and faithful audience I humbly request your forgiveness: I am no grammar King! Nor do I proclaim to know every written rule and facet of this ornery subject.
Truthfully, grammar need not be feared. It is an element of the creative writing process that is not only essential, but one that can be learned the same way one might learn how to sum up a series of whole numbers. There is barely any room for creativity when it comes to grammar- it is just a matter of knowing proper rules, and then following and applying those rules. Because of this precedence, it is clear that anyone can come to know how to write properly. "But this series IS about how to write CREATIVELY", one might scream.
And, to that I whisper in reply, "true..."
Let it be understood, that no matter how creative one is, it is pointless if that creativity cannot be juxtaposed into proper writing form. Without the ability to write sentences then that perfect best seller will always remain in thought form and not on book shelves. So it is impudent that we learn how to construct- properly- a sentence, a paragraph, a page, a novel. More importantly, one needs to comprehend why knowing how to write is so very important, so let us begin at my favorite place: the heart of the matter.
What I believe to be basic grammar knowledge isn't always so well known. I am astounded at what I sometimes unintentionally expose my eyes to when I attmept to read such rubbish. A few errors, forgiveable- everyone makes them; else why would people be able to make a living at editing? So be gentle, my benevolent jury. A few more errors and we have serious problems. A guilty verdict in this case should result in the jury throwing the [How to write] book at the shamed culprit.
Success? You Choose
Besides the obvious, we must ask ourselves, "WHY is writing with bad grammar such a bad idea?" The fact of the matter is that writing with bad grammar is self sabotaging on many levels. Bad writing breeds more bad writing, which creates bad writing habits. More importantly, a poorly written text will have your reader scratching their heads before ripping out the pages in your book. A reader will usually only make it through the first paragraph before giving up completely -if what they are reading is pieced together full of grammatical errors. One ripped up book may not matter in the grand scheme of things, but consider that your reputation is lurking behind those faults. Writing with incorrect grammar will only precede a self created mountain of rejections that will assuredly take its toll. So at the heart of the matter we find success. If a writer has a grasp on grammar then success as a writer is always just a page away; however, any writer that does not have a good grasp on grammar will never achieve success as a writer. Even editors will turn down such rubbish.
With success on the horizon, it is inevitable that if grammar has not been learned, or if we have forgotten our lessons from school, then we must revisit the rules.
I have listed below some of the most common grammar mistakes I have seen. (And be sure to check out "The most complete list of the most commonly misused words")
Missing commas- Specifically after an introductory word phrase or clause. You're never wrong if you use a comma after an introductory statement. Use it!
Correct:Sweating like a workhorse,he worked out vigorously.
Missing commas-Always use a comma before coordinating conjunction-and, but, so, yet, or, nor,or for if the conjunction joins two parts of a sentence.
Correct: I'm not sure where to go ,but I'll know when I get there.
Shift in pronoun -Do not shift pronouns while writing.
Incorrect: When one is labeled a kind person you know you’re doing something right.
Missing commas- In a series, when three or more items appear in a series, many disciplines require them to be separated from one another with commas. Although newspapers and magazines do not use a comma between the last two items, the best advice in writing is to use a comma because a sentence can be ambiguous without one.
Correct: Julie likes lettuce, ketchup, mustard, pickles, and cheese on her hamburger.
Misplaced modifier- (I see this one a lot!) Every modifier (whether a word, phrase, or clause) should be as close as possible to the word it describes or relates to. Misplaced modifiers may confuse your readers by seeming to modify some other element in the sentence.
Incorrect: Walking very quietly, Johnny saw a bird taking out the trash. (who took out the trash? The bird?)
Correct: While taking out the trash, Johnny saw a bird. (Oh! Johnny saw a bird)
It's vs. Its - Use its when referring to "belonging to". Use it's to replace it is or it has. (see list)
Correct: The dog fell on its tail.
Correct: It's a brown tail.
Quotation marks- Single vs. double. Use double when enclosing direct quotes, or enclose titles of newspaper and magazine articles, poems, short stories, songs, episodes of television and radio programs, and chapters or subdivisions of books or set off words used ironically or as slang, and words that may be unfamiliar to the reader.Use single quoteswhen doing any of the above inside a double quotations bubble. (Alternate between single and double when a quote is inside a quote inside another quote)
Correct: On the Tv series "Monk", the detective is not married.
Incorrect: On the TV series Monk, the detective is not married.
Correct: "I never ran away", Johnny said, "and furthermore, when I asked Julie about it, she said, 'No!'"
Correct: Johnny ran into the store like a "turtle".
Incorrect: Johnny ran fast into the store like a turtle. (see italics rule below)
Italics - Use italics, instead of quotation marks when the word you are emphasizing is used only for emphasis and still retains its original meaning.
Correct: I have never in all my life heard of such a thing!
Incorrect: Johnny ran fast into the store like aturtle.(incorrect because turtles are not known for running fast)
Colon vs. Semicolon - Use a colon when introducing a list or when introducing an example so long as the thought before the list or example is a complete thought. Also use a colon when separating a title from a subtitle.
Correct: Johnny liked everything about Sarah: her eyes, her nose, her hair, her smell.
Incorrect: Johnny liked the following: her eyes, her nose, her hair.
Correct: Throughout the poem "Grammar: How to use a colon", the author uses the semicolon incorrectly.
Correct: The jury for the "Trial of the Century", had reached their verdict: Guilty.
Use a semi colon to link two complete sentences without a conjunction such asand or but when your sentences areclosely relatedor continue the same thought. Also use the semicolon when you want to link two sentences with a conjunctive adverb such as however, therfore, or nevertheless. (Make sure to follow the adverb with a comma!) Use semi colons when listing items separated by commas.
Correct: I need a new car; my old car exploded last night. (two sentences closely related)
Correct: I need a new car; however, my old car still runs just fine.
Correct: Johnny travelled to the following cities: Jacksonville, FL; Orlando, Florida; Bangor, Maine; and Nashville, Tennessee.
Correct: When teachers all agree on just one thing, they'll often give each other a kiss; teachers are all about kisses!
Dash- A dash is used to emphasize what follows, or change of topic within a sentence, or if the information that follows is surprising and unexpected, or to indicate a summarizing clause, or to indicate an emphasized addition, or to enclose emphasized additional information which interrupts the normal progression of the sentence -- Got it?!
Correct: Johnny crashed his car -another one bites the dust!
Correct: This is very important -are you listening to me?
Correct: Johnny, Sarah, Candi and I -we are all freaking out!
Correct: I jumped so high -30 feet high.
Correct: It was all of us-Johnny, Candi, Sarah and me- that started the fire.
(there is continuing debate as to whether or not a space should precede or proceed a dash or not at all. The accepted "norm" at this time is no space. I prefer to use a space)
Titles - you should always capitalize (note that there are no SET rules on capitalization, this is just the accepted norm)
- First and last words
- you should never capitalize (unless it's the first or last word)
Correct: The Man in the Moon Owns a Yellow Balloon
Correct: My Travels up Nova Scotia's South Shore
Numbers - Spell out single digit numbers 0-9. 10 and above, user numeration. Stay consistent according to the objects.
Correct: I want seven pencils.
Correct: I want 20 pencils.
Correct:I want 2 pencils and 30 erasers.
Correct: All 20 students read the first four books; however, only 7 students read the last eleven books.
(students are represented with figures, books are represented with words)
Spell out fractions.
Correct: I asked for one half of the pizza to be cheese.
Put a zero in front of the decimal unless the decimal begins with a zero.
Correct: Johnny grew 0.5 inches last year
Correct: We only received .05 inches of rain last year.
Don't use an apostrophe when expressing decades
Correct: During the 1980s and 1990s I watched my fair share of cartoons.
I.e. = that is
"I'm going to the place I work best, i.e., the coffee shop"
e.g = for example
"He wastes his money on junk, e.g. cars that don't run"
Overuse of the word "that" - Chances are (that) you don't need it.
Always spell out the number for the time of day
Correct: I wake up at five o'clock every morning.
Always use figures when gviing exact times or when using A.M./ P.M.
Correct: Her plane arrives at 3:22
Correct: Johnny goes to bed at 8:30 P.M. every night.
Always use "noon" and "midnight" rather than 12:00 PM or 12:00 AM
Hyphanate all compund numbers 21 through 99
Correct: She ran twenty-three miles yesterday.
Correct: Josh is fourty-three years old tomorrow!
Write out the number if it starts a sentence.
Correct: Four people died in Sunday's crash.
Use full parenthesis for listed items
Correct: I want a girlfriend that is (1) pretty, (2) smart, and (3) nice.
Dollars- Use dollar signs and decimals. Do not use zeros and decimals. Use a comma for anything over a thousand.
Correct: $100 or $100.25
Jumping from singular to plural:
Correct: A customer often is concerned about how it will affect his or her cash flow.
Incorrect:A customer often is concerned about how it will affect their cash flow.
Over use of "very"- How much is "very"?
i.e = that is or in other words
Below are actual examples found on Hubs in HubPage's: Extreme Makeover forum:
See if you can spot the mistakes:
- Have you ever wonder why all your queries get rejections all the time?
- When you write, leave a decent space of time between writing and editing, this would give you a clear chance to detect your mistake without anybody telling you, also try to read your work as a novice or stranger would read it, or even better as your enemy would read it, this would help you see the weakness in your writing.
- The problem begins the day, the father moves out of the house, Then the child would have little or no access to his/her father again, if the children are two in number then the man MAY get lucky to have one.
- No matter how much I did, when mother get home, there was always something wrong
- This is not –your- party it’s a special day in two people’s lives.
- Those who have experienced a Reiki healing often comment that “her hands were so hot!”
- It took me two pretty serious incidents to start buying into the importance of eating bananas to help maintain a healthy diet and stock up on needed nutrients for my body using natural food instead of supplements or medicines. Don’t wait for that to happen to you and start eating healthy foods, such as bananas.
- Mr. Robert works as an executive in a big company. He gets paid well with bonus and all other benefits. His wife stays at home looking after their beautiful three children. Every day when Robert drives to work he sees a homeless man on the street. He never asks for money, but Robert once in a while pays him a dollar or two.
- Next day when Robert went for his morning walk, the homeless man asked him, why he looks so sad. Robert said he lost his job.
- Save money. This is the first quality anyone aspiring to enjoy the peace that good spending habit bestows must develop. It takes just two months of practice. Then you automatically save money. If you monthly income is 3000 dollars try to spend less than 2000.
For your first homework assignment, you are to write at least one paragraph that contains at least 10 purposeful errors. It's a bit harder than it sounds!
And don't forget to head over to "The Most Complete List of the Most Commonly Misused Words"!!
Next up is: How To: Creative Writing Tips 3: Relationship
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