Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Quick and Dirty Grammar Tips

As I've struggled to make my book as clean as possible, it has never become clearer to me than now, that I have somehow forgotten my middle/high school English lessons.  As I’ve tried to correct grammatical issues, I’ve rediscovered how complicated the English language can be and found many of the rules I somehow lost along the way.  I’m trying my best to learn them all, but I’m far from perfect. (In fact, I'll probably find errors after this blog is posted) 

Here are a few rules that I have to repeatedly remind myself:
Lay vs. Lie: You wouldn’t think that when to use lay vs. lie would be confusing, but you would be surprised to find how often these two are mixed up. Even with the rule below, I’m sometimes still not sure which one to use.
·  In the present tense, lay always takes a direct object, as in, “I [subject] lay [verb] the pen [direct object] on the table.” A direct object is the recipient on an action, in this case, laying.
·  I lie on my bed. / He lies on my bed/ I am lying on my bed.
Grammar Girl has a good explanation of this issue here: http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/lay-versus-lie.aspx
Affect vs. Effect: From Chicago: Affect, almost always a verb, means “to influence, have an effect on” {the adverse publicity affected the election}. Effect, usually a noun, means “outcome, result” {the candidate’s attempted explanations had no effect}.But it may also be a verb meaning “to make happen, produce” {the goal had been to effect a major change in campus politics}.
Comma’s: Who can possibly keep up with all of the rules for commas? Quite frankly, I find when and where to use them can sometimes be downright confusing.  (Notes on comma usage below were given to me by Lindsey Alexander, a free-lance editor, after I pestered her with questions on grammar)
Commas with independent clauses: One of the primary uses for the comma is to separate two independent clauses linked by a conjunction (and, or, but, if, etc.). The Chicago Manual recommends using a comma in most of these cases, except for when the two clauses are short and closely connected. A good rule of thumb is if the subject changes after a conjunction, and that subject is part of an independent clause, a comma is probably in order.
·  Two independent clauses: Dan went to the store,  and Lucy stayed home to do the laundry.
·   One independent/one dependent: We will agree to the proposal if you accept our conditions.
·  Short, closely connected clauses: Rick played the guitar but Sam didn’t.
·  A dependent clause followed by an independent clause is usually followed by a comma: If you don’t know me now, you never will.
Commas and compound predicates: When a single subject performs multiple actions connected by conjunctions (with an exception for series), a comma is typically omitted.
Correct: Stephanie shrieked and whispered when Amy walked by.
Incorrect: Stephanie shrieked, and whispered.

Coordinate adjectives: One of the toughest aspects of comma usage to master is in punctuating adjectives. How is it that we can get away with “big red wooden barn” but “loyal, trusted, faithful friend” has to have commas? There are two handy tests to help you determine is commas should be used between adjectives.

Test #1: Would the meaning still make sense if you joined the adjectives by and?
Test #2: Would the sentence still be correct if you reversed/rearranged the order of the adjectives?
If the answer to both of these questions is yes, you need to include commas between the coordinate adjectives. If the answer is no, and the adjectives are not coordinate, don’t use commas.
Comma between dialogue and verbs of saying: When dialogue is introduced or followed by verbs of saying (said, blurted out, yelled, whispered, etc.), the two phrases are connected by a comma.
 For Example:  “Comma rules stink,” Kim yelled.
          “Not yet, Dave!” shouted Andy.
Whereas if dialogue is preceded or followed by an action phrase that does not contain a verb of saying, the two are usually separated with a period.

For example: Zane stepped into the classroom. “Of course not.”                          

Click Here to Download a Hyphenation Guide
Click Here to Download Comma Splices and Run On Worksheet 1
Click Here to Download Comma Splices and Run On Worksheet 2

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Long Time No See and Writing Tips

It’s been so long since my last post that I actually have people emailing and calling to find out what’s going on. I love that you all are so interested and supportive and I’m sorry for the extended absence. Truth is I’ve been super busy with Thomas; he’s out of school for the summer. And when I’m not hanging out with him, I’ve been taking a few writing courses online. (Any writers reading this...look below for a few notes from these classes)
I did manage to enter the Writer’s Voice Twitter Pitch contest, in which two agents showed interest in my manuscript. Basically, the contest was to pitch your book in 140 characters and there were four agents watching the twitter feed. If they saw something they liked, they would respond. There were hundreds of pitches and I was super flattered when mine received interest.
This was my pitch: Plummeting 55,000ft-Check. Oxygen malfunction-Check. Normal for astronaut training? Nope, someone wants Aurora out… #WVTP
On to other and just as exciting news, Brian has officially started writing the book that we’ve talked about for years. I’ve only read a few pages so far, but I already know he has an amazing way with words. It’s funny...his strengths as a writer are my weaknesses and vice versa. His descriptive writing style is perfect for his historic plotline and his terrific dialogue makes it fun to read. I’m not sure how much he wants me to share, but I do know that when it comes time to getting his book published, all of my experiences will come in handy.
For the Writer Crowd:
I attended a webinar writing class hosted by Writer’s Digest University, an excellent online source for writer’s. The instructor for the class was Paula Munier, a literary agent with Talcott Notch Literary. Her background is highly impressive and I found her presentation to be spot on. I’m going to post a few tips from the class, but any writer who feels that their first ten pages could be stronger should take the class.  I’m not sure how often this class is available, but the instructor reads over your first ten pages and then give’s specific feedback. And let me tell you, my feedback was worth every penny.
SCENE ONE: Every Writer's Guide to Writing Story Openings that Sell
Things I learned:
1.)    You have 2-3 sentences to grab a reader/editor/agents attention. Make them count.
2.)    The first page sells the book and the last page sells your next book.
3.)    Check out Elmore Leonard’s “rules” for good writing. There are exceptions to every rule, but in general they hold true. Here are a few:
A.)   Do not open with weather
B.)    Do not open with Prologue
C.)    Do not open with a Dream
D.)   Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue (meaning get rid of dialogue tags. Ex. He/She intoned, He/She stated etc.)
4.)    Editing Tip- if in doubt, delete.