Saturday, September 28, 2019

How to Create Workable Scene Outlines for Your Novel

by Jodie Renner, fiction editor and author of writing guides  

Are you on the first or second draft of your novel and feel like it's a bit of a muddle? Are you feeling a bit overwhelmed? Maybe thinking of rearranging or eliminating some scenes or chapters, but the task feels daunting?

Here's a quick and easy way to find some clarity. Below you'll see a template for briefly outlining each of your scenes so you can see at a glance if the order works and if each scene is engaging, meaningful, and drives your story forward.

After you've outlined all your scenes using the template below, cut them apart and play with the order of them. Maybe condense and combine a few, or even eliminate any that don't have enough tension or contribute to the story as a whole. Make notes on the back or on a separate document as to possible rearranging and ways to add more tension, conflict, and intrigue to any scenes that may need it. Possibly even show that scene from the point of view of a different character?

First, what’s a scene?

Although most novels are divided up into chapters, the scene is the fundamental unit of fiction. Each scene is a mini-story, with a main character who faces a problem, dilemma, or challenge. Every scene needs some tension or conflict, even if it's just internal, and at the end of each scene, at least one of the main characters should have gone through some sort of change or be facing a new challenge or dilemma. Otherwise, the scene isn’t pulling its weight and needs to be revised or cut. Every scene needs a mission (goal), an obstacle, and an outcome (usually a question or new problem). For more on scenes, see Jodie’s article “Every Scene Needs Conflict and a Change.”

Remember that, to keep the readers turning the pages, every scene or chapter should end on an unresolved note, a question, a surprise, a shock, a setback, a reversal, a revelation, a new dilemma or challenge, a veering in a new direction, or an unexpected action or event.

A modern novel normally has several dozen scenes. Each scene can range in length from a few paragraphs to a dozen pages or more. A chapter can contain one scene or several. Some authors like to use jump cuts, where they “cut away” in the middle of a scene to go to a different scene, then perhaps interrupt that one in the middle to go back to the first scene and resume where they left off.

Using the Scene Outline:

The outline below will help you organize your scenes and decide if any of them need to be moved, revised, amped up, or cut.

This is a great tool for both plotters and "pantsers". Plotters/outliners can use it to outline your scenes early on in the process; and those of you who prefer to just let the words flow and write “by the seat of your pants” can use it later, to make sure the timeline makes sense and the scene has enough conflict/tension and a change. 

In your outline, keep each scene description to a minimum. Don’t get carried away with too many details, or the task could become arduous. The most important thing is the POV (point of view) character’s goal for that scene, and what’s preventing him/her from reaching that goal, plus new conflicts / problems / questions that arise.

And you can use a different font color or highlight color for each main character, for a quick reference on who was the POV (viewpoint) character for each scene. Also, you can print it up and cut them out to rearrange the scenes, or use a writing software for that.

If in doubt as to who should be the viewpoint character for that scene, most often it’s your protagonist. The point of view character for a particular scene can also, less often, be your antagonist or another main character. Almost never a minor character. If you can’t decide who should be the POV character for a particular scene, go with the character who has the most invested emotionally or the most to lose.

SCENE OUTLINE FORM:           


SCENE 1

Place (Setting):        

Date/Month/Season:

Year (approx.):   

POV character for this scene:

Other main characters here:

POV character’s goal here:

Motivation for their goal (why do they want that?):

Main problem / conflict – Who/What is preventing POV character from reaching his/her goal:

Outcome – Usually a setback / new problem:

(And/or new info, revelation, new question, or, rarely, the resolution of the problem):

         
SCENE 2

Place: 

Date/Month/Season: Year (approx.):

POV character: 

Other main characters:    

POV character’s goal:

Motivation for their goal: 

Main problem/conflict/question:

Outcome (most often a setback):


SCENE 3

Place: 

Date/Month/Season: Year (approx.):

POV character:


Other main characters:   

POV character’s goal:

Motivation: 

Main problem/conflict/question:

Outcome (most often a setback): 


 SCENE 4


Place:

Etc. Continue for as many chapters and scenes as you have.

Feel free to share one of your scene outlines in the comments below.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

REVISE FOR SUCCESS – Concrete Tips for Revising and Editing Your Fiction

by Jodie Renner, editor and award-winning author

After you’ve finished the first draft of your popular fiction novel or short story – or even if you’re only a third or halfway into it but have some nagging doubts about the viability of various aspects of the story – take a short break. Put your manuscript aside for a week or two and concentrate on other things. Then come back to it with a bit of distance, as a reader.

Here's a step-by-step guide to looking for any possible weaknesses in your premise, plot, characterization, or writing style. This is a pretty detailed list, so just approach it one step at a time, over days and weeks, maybe even months. Click on the links after each point for more in-depth suggestions on that topic.


STEP 1: LOOK FOR ANY BIG-PICTURE ISSUES.  


~ PREMISE: Is it intriguing and solid? Will the foundation of your story stand up to scrutiny? Does your main character face significant challenges that he/she must overcome?

~ CHARACTERIZATION: Is your protagonist charismatic, multi-dimensional, conflicted, and at least somewhat sympathetic and likeable? Does he/she change as a result of what he/she goes through in the course of the story? (character arc)

Click to read: Create a Complex, Charismatic Main Character.

Does your protagonist have significant, meaningful goals and motivations? What is driving him or her?

Do your characters’ decisions and actions seem realistic and authentic?

Click on this link: Make Sure Your Characters Act in Character

Also, are your supporting characters different from each other and the protagonist, for interesting contrast and tension?

~ POINT OF VIEW: Are you staying firmly in the head of the viewpoint character for each scene, or are there places where you’re hovering above or inadvertently slipping into the thoughts of other characters (head-hopping)? Click on the links below.

POV 101: Get into Your Protagonist’s Head and Stay There 

POV 102 – How to Avoid Head-Hopping 

POV 103 – Engage Your Readers with Deep Point of View 

~ PLOT: Does your protagonist have a significant challenge or dilemma that’s difficult to solve? Are you piling on the problems as the story goes on? Make sure every plot point directly affects the character and his journey. See Writing a Killer Thriller for essential tips that apply to all popular fiction.

~ STRUCTURE: Should you start your story or any of your scenes later? Or earlier? Would it be more effective to change the order of some chapters or scenes? Shorten some or expand others? Or even delete a few?

~ SCENES: Does every scene have some tension and conflict? Does every scene end with a question or dilemma that drives the story forward? See


Every Scene Needs Tension and a Change.  

Make brief scene outlines, using this template:

   Scene: Chapter: Place:
   - Date/Month/Season: Year (approx.):
   - POV character for this scene:
   - Other main characters here:
   - POV character’s goal here:
   - Motivation for their goal (why do they want that?):
   - Main problem/conflict – Who/What is preventing POV character from reaching his/her goal:
  - Outcome – Usually a setback / new problem:

Revise any scenes that don’t have conflict and a change and don’t advance the story. 

~ CONFLICT, TENSION and INTRIGUE: Every novel, no matter the genre, needs conflict, tension, and intrigue -- and a certain amount of suspense. For practical advice on how to keep readers turning the pages, see my writer's guide, WRITING A KILLER THIRLLER and this article:
 Add Tension, Suspense, and Intrigue.

~ POTENTIAL PLOT HOLES, inconsistencies, or discrepancies: Ask others to watch out for any accidental bloopers in your story that will erode reader confidence.

~ OPENING: Will your opening paragraphs and first pages hook the readers and entice them to keep reading? Don’t warm up your engines with backstory or start with lengthy description – get right into the story from the first line, in the head of your protagonist.

12 Dos and Don’ts for a Riveting Opening.

~ LENGTH: Is your story too long or too short? If it’s more than 90,000 words (okay, unless it’s a fantasy or epic), check out:

How to Slash Your Word Cut by 20-40% - Without losing any of the good stuff!


This would be a good time to send your story off to some trusted beta readers, volunteers who read critically in your genre. They don’t need to be writers.

Here’s list of 15 Questions for Your Beta Readers – And to Focus Your Own Revisions

STEP 2: WRITING STYLE, VOICE, TONE, AND PACING


~ SHOW, DON'T TELL. Be sure to show, rather than tell, all critical scenes in real time, with action and dialogue, and quickly summarize or skip over humdrum scenes. See my article, Show, Don't Tell.

~ SHOW CHARACTER REACTIONS. Bring characters to life on the page by showing their emotions, physical reactions, thought reactions, and sensory perceptions.

See: Bring Your Characters to Life by Showing Their Reactions and

Immerse Your Readers with Sensory Details.

~ RELAX YOUR WRITING. Is your writing style too correct and formal for fiction? If so, loosen up the language. Read it aloud to see where you can make it more casual by streamlining sentences and using contractions and everyday words.

See Tips for Loosening up Your Writing.

~ VOICE: Does each of your main characters have a unique voice? Or do they all sound like each other and the author? Beware of writing in a too-correct, nonfiction style. Remember that men usually speak differently than women, and a blue-collar guy shouldn't sound like a businessman or teacher. Use free-form journaling in the character's secret diary, especially when they're upset, to capture their true inner and outer voice, with plenty of attitude.

See: Concrete Tips for Developing a Unique Voice in Your Fiction

Developing a Strong Third-Person Voice, and also my book, Captivate Your Readers

~ SPARK UP YOUR PROSE. Use strong, specific nouns and verbs instead of tired, overused ones. For more ideas on this, check out my book, FIRE UP YOUR FICTION and the following article:

 Nail it with Just the Right Word.

~ PICK UP THE PACE. Does your story drag in places? Are your descriptions too lengthy and neutral-sounding?
See: Pick up the Pace for a Real Page-Turner

~ WRITE TIGHT. Read your story aloud to see where you can cut down on wordiness and repetitions. Take out any “little word pile-ups” and all unnecessary detail to improve flow and pacing. Make every word count. See many chapters of Fire up Your Fiction for more specifics on this, and my post,

Don’t Muddle Your Message.  

~ WRITE AUTHENTIC DIALOGUE. Read the dialogue out loud to make sure it sounds natural, like that character would actually speak. See my blog post,

 Tips for Writing Effective Dialogue.

Avoid these Style Blunders in Fiction.

STEP 3: FINAL PROOFREADING 


Now it's time to go through the revised copy and look for typos, spelling, punctuation, missing or repeated words, convoluted sentences, and anywhere the prose doesn’t flow easily and sparkle. Also, look for formatting problems. Is your prose broken down into short paragraphs, for more white space? Have you started a new paragraph for every new speaker? Is your dialogue properly punctuated? See my article

Dialogue Nuts and Bolts.

Some techniques that work for effective proofreading:

~ Change the font and print out your story on paper or download it to your e-reader or tablet; or get a sample book printed. Then read it in a different location from where you wrote it (preferably away from your home) and make notes.       

For more tips on effective final proofreading, see my article,

Tricks and Tips for Catching All Those Little Typos in Your Own Work.

Also, see How to save a bundle on editing costs – without sacrificing quality and

  Basic Formatting of Your Manuscript (Formatting 101) 


Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor, workshop presenter, judge for fiction contests, and the award-winning author of three craft-of-writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Captivate Your Readers, Fire up Your Fiction, and Writing a Killer Thriller. She has also published two clickable time-saving e-resources to date: Quick Clicks: Spelling List and Quick Clicks: Word Usage. Jodie has also organized and edited two anthologies for charity: Voices from the Valleys, and Childhood Regained – Stories of Hope for Asian Child Workers. You can find Jodie on her Amazon Author Page, at www.JodieRenner.com, and on Facebook. 

Sunday, September 22, 2019

CLEAR, CONCISE, POWERFUL NONFICTION WRITING

by Jodie Renner, editor and author  

(An oldie but goodie I wrote and published here 9 years ago.)
- All of these tips will also make fiction writing clearer and more concise.

"Are you excavating a subterranean channel?" asked the scholar. "No sir," replied the farmer. "I am only digging a ditch." - Anon

Today’s post is mainly aimed at nonfiction writers, for a change. Have you ever read a legal document that was incomprehensible to you? Sometimes even magazine articles seem to be far more stiff and convoluted than they need to be.

Readers today are deluged with documents to read and information to assimilate. They don't want to have to wade through a thick pile of verbiage, long, complicated sentences, and unnecessarily fancy words to get the info they're looking for. They want you to state your points clearly and succinctly (with maybe even a touch of humor), so they can get on to the next chapter, document or article.

Language is all about communication; and as such, written language should be easily understood by most of the population, or at least by everyone in your target readership. If you’re sending your average reader to the dictionary more than once or twice in your article, or if they have to stop and re-read a sentence because it’s way too long and complex, you’re not communicating in a clear, direct way, and you’re likely to turn off your readers. Or, worse, you’ll just come across as pedantic and pompous.

According to Wikipedia, “Plain language, sometimes called simple language or clear language, is lucid, succinct writing designed to ensure the reader understands as quickly and completely as possible. Plain language avoids complications created by verbose, convoluted writing common in technical, legal, and other fields.”

Dr. Robert Eagleson defines plain language as “...clear, straightforward expression, using only as many words as are necessary. It is language that avoids obscurity, inflated vocabulary and convoluted construction. It is not baby talk, nor is it a simplified version of...language.”

Here are some tips for communicating clearly and effectively in your writing:

1. Avoid unnecessarily long sentences and excess wordiness.

Excess or elaborate words make your writing weaker. When tempted to use a wordy phrase, choose a concise alternative instead. As Robert W. Harris says, “Concise sentences have a force that wordy sentences don’t have. Extraneous words merely take up space and dilute the impact of the idea being expressed.”

Harris gives the following examples in his book, When Good People Write Bad Sentences:
Wordy: “Consuming excessive calories at breakfast, lunch and dinner can lead to an increase in blood pressure.”

Concise: “Overeating at meals can increase blood pressure.”

Wordy: “Owing to the fact that my car is not the most reliable of machines, I often show up for appointments after their scheduled commencement times.”

Concise: “Because my car is unreliable, I’m often late for appointments.”

Government writing in particular, is often too wordy. Here are some examples from www.plainlanguage.gov of excess words in government writing and plain alternatives:

Original: "At the present time, the FAA in accordance with new regulations will on a monthly basis conduct random security checks in the event that there is a terrorist alert."

Revised: "The FAA under new regulations will conduct monthly random security checks if there is a terrorist alert."

Some examples of wordy phrases to avoid, and straightforward, clear alternatives:

Wordy phrases ---- Plain Alternatives     

as a consequence of -----because
in the vicinity of ---------near
on a regular basis ------- regularly
as a means of ----------- to
as prescribed by --------- in, under
at a later date ----------- later
at the present time ----- now, currently
despite the fact that ----- despite
for the purpose of ------- to, for
in accordance with ------ under
in the event that ---------- if
in the not-too-distant future - soon
has the appearance of --- looks like
on a monthly basis ------- monthly
owing to the fact that ---- because
pertaining to -------------- of, about
should it appear that ----- if
with regard to ------------ about
drew to a close ----------- ended
on an annual basis ------- annually

Notice that the extra words in the first column above don’t help the meaning or add anything of significance. The wordy phrases are no more serious, compelling, or informative than their concise alternatives. In fact, extra words drain the life out of your work. The fewer words used to express an idea, the more punch it has.

2. Use active voice instead of passive voice.

Passive: The tests were graded by the teacher. The ball was kicked by Paul. The motion was passed by Senate.

Active: The teacher graded the tests. Paul kicked the ball. Senate passed the motion.

Because the active voice emphasizes the doer of an action, it is usually briefer, clearer, and more emphatic than the passive voice. Whenever possible, use active voice in your writings.

3. Avoid redundancies and unnecessary qualifiers.

It’s a mistake to think that in order to make an idea clear, you need to state it in several different ways. Using different words that mean the same thing can actually make your document harder to understand. To avoid repetition, if you are thinking of describing something with two words that have the same meaning, use the word that sounds more powerful.

Original: Because you are an experienced senior, you should help aid the new incoming freshmen.

Revised: Because you are a senior, you should help the incoming freshmen.

Also, unnecessary qualifiers add no additional meaning to a sentence, so avoid redundant phrases such as:

absolutely necessary, advance warning, basic fundamentals, close scrutiny, final outcome, future plans, honest truth, joint collaboration, overused cliché, past history, regular routine, unexpected surprise, etc.

In all of these cases, it’s best to just use the second of the two words in each phrase, as none of these words needed qualifying.

4. Don’t use multiple negatives

Using more than one negative muddles the meaning of a document. Accentuate the positive when you can. Here’s an example from www.plainlanguage.gov:

Original: No changes will be made to the Department of Transportation’s regulations unless the administrator reviews them and concludes that they are not lacking any important information.

Revised: Changes will be made to the Department of Transportation’s regulations only if the administrator reviews them and concludes they are lacking important information.

5. Don’t use a pretentious word or phrase when an ordinary one will do.

“I always endeavor to utilize multisyllabic words. It is the manner in which sophisticated people write.” – from When Good People Write Bad Sentences
Pretentious language, rather than impressing or intimidating readers, just makes the writer look like a pompous show-off. High-sounding words can suggest that one’s ideas aren’t interesting on their own so they need to be “enhanced.”

Here are some overly fancy words and their down-to-earth alternatives:

altercation – fight; appellation – name; domicile – home; capacious – roomy; facilitate – aid; impecunious – poor; jocular – witty; masticate – chew; perambulate – stroll; modification – change; pusillanimous – timid; recapitulation – summary; sobriquet – nickname; vicissitude – hardship; vociferate – shout. (The list goes on, but you get the picture.)

6. Finally, wherever possible, write in a visually appealing style.

Use headings, subheadings, bulleted lists, numbered lists, sidebars, graphics, tables, and parallel phrasing to make it easier for your readers to find the information quickly.

Remember, the purpose of writing is to communicate your ideas as clearly and as easily as possible – not to impress your readers with your erudition!

Copyright Jodie Renner, http://www.jodierennerediting.com/

Sources: When Good People Write Bad Sentences, by Robert W. Harris; www.plainlanguage.gov; and Wikipedia.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

How and When to Use HYPHENS, DASHES, & ELLIPSES


ELLIPSES vs. DASHES; also HYPHEN, EM DASH and EN DASH

by Jodie Renner, editor and author, www.JodieRenner.com

In my editing of fiction manuscripts, I often find writers using ellipses (...), hyphens, or semicolons where they should use dashes. Here's a brief run-down on the correct use of these punctuation marks.

A. Ellipsis (…) or Dash (—)?          


In fiction,

An ellipsis (…) is used to show hesitation:

“What I meant is… I don’t know how to begin…” 

or a trailing off:


"She came with you? But I thought..." She paused.
"You thought what? Come on, spit it out."

(Also, usually in nonfiction, indicates the omission of words in a quoted text.)

A dash (—), also called em dash, is used to show an interruption in speech:


“But I—”

“But nothing! I don’t want to hear your excuses!”

or a sudden break in thought or sentence structure: “Will he—can he—find out the truth?”

The dash is used for amplifying or explaining
, for setting off information within a sentence, kind of like parentheses or commas can do: 

“My friends—I mean, my former friends—ganged up on me.” 

B. Hyphen vs. En Dash vs. Em Dash:

The en dash is longer than a hyphen but shorter than an em dash (the normal dash).

A hyphen (-) is used within a word.


It separates the parts of a compound word: bare-handed, close-up, die-hard, half-baked, jet-lagged, low-key, never-ending, no-brainer, pitch-dark, self-control, single-handed, sweet-talk, user-friendly, up-to-date, watered-down, work-in-progress, etc.

Dashes are used between words.


An en dash (–) connects numbers (and sometimes words), usually in a range, meaning “to”: 1989–2007; Chapters 16–18; the score was 31–24 for Green Bay; the London–Paris train; 10:00 a.m.–2:00 p.m. Also sometimes used as a dash in articles and other nonfiction writing, with a space on each side ( – ).

An em dash (—) is used to mark an interruption, as mentioned above (“What the—”), or material set off parenthetically from the main point—like this. Don’t confuse it with a hyphen (-). In fiction, the em dash almost always appears with no spaces around it.

C.
How to Create Em Dashes and En Dashes:  


Em dash (—) Ctrl+Alt+minus (far top right, on the number pad). CMS uses no spaces around em dashes; AP puts spaces on each side of em-dashes

En dash (–) Ctrl+minus (far top right, on the number pad). Usually has a space on both sides.


D. Advanced Uses of the Dash (Em Dash):

According to the Chicago Manual of Style (6.87), “To avoid confusion, no sentence should contain more than two em dashes; if more than two elements need to be set off, use parentheses.”

The Chicago Manual of Style also says (6.90) that if the break belongs to the surrounding sentence rather than to the quoted material, the em dashes must appear outside the quotation marks: “Someday he’s going to hit one of those long shots and”—his voice turned huffy—“I won’t be there to see it.”

Using an em dash in combination with other punctuation: CMS 6.92: “A question mark or an exclamation point—but never a comma, a colon, or a semicolon, and rarely a period—may precede an em dash.

All at once Jeremy—was he out of his mind?—shook his fist in the officer’s face.

Only if—heaven forbid!—you lose your passport should you call home.


See also: Dialogue Nuts & Bolts
 Some Common Grammar Gaffes,
 Basic Formatting of Your Manuscript
Style Blunders in Fiction

Do you have any other punctuation or grammar questions you'd like me to address? If so, please leave your suggestions or questions in the comments below. Thanks!

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three craft-of-writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: FIRE UP YOUR FICTION,  CAPTIVATE YOUR READERS, and WRITING A KILLER THRILLER, as well as two clickable time-saving e-resources, QUICK CLICKS: Spelling List and QUICK CLICKS: Word Usage. She has also organized two anthologies for charity: VOICES FROM THE VALLEYS – Stories and Poems about Life in BC’s Interior, and CHILDHOOD REGAINED – Stories of Hope for Asian Child Workers. Website: www.JodieRenner.com Facebook. Amazon Author Page.




Tuesday, September 17, 2019

QUICK CLICKS: SPELLING LIST - Commonly Misspelled Words at Your Fingertips

 by Jodie Renner, editor and author 

Are you a busy writer or journalist? A student with writing assignments piling up? An editor who needs to verify info quickly? Then you'll love my handy, time-saving, clickable resource for writers, editors, students, and anyone who has any kind of writing project. It's called QUICK CLICKS: SPELLING LIST - Commonly Misspelled Words at Your Fingertips. CLICK HERE to check out the Kindle book on Amazon. It's also available as a PDF document to leave up on your screen, behind or beside your W.I.P. To purchase the PDF version for $2.99, please email info (at) JodieRenner (dot) com.

How will this e-resource make your life easier?

Whether you’re a journalist, fiction or nonfiction writer, student, blogger, editor, or anyone else on a busy schedule (aren’t we all these days?), this clickable spelling list will save you tons of time, no matter what you’re writing. Just keep this doc up on your screen or beside you on your Kindle, tablet, or smartphone, and if you’re unsure of a word, go to this, click on the first two letters, find the word quickly, check the spelling, and you’re back to your writing project within seconds. 

Words are listed here for various reasons. They might be challenging to spell, like “acquiescence” or “hemorrhage” or “abhorrent” or “zucchini” or “Caesar.” Or what about those everyday words we think we know how to spell, but just want to quickly verify, like “occurrence” or “embarrassed” or “occasion” or “recommend” or “separate” or “weird” or “vacuum”?

In many other cases, the words or terms are easy to spell but are just included because there is confusion as to whether they should be hyphenated, one word, or two words. For example, is it back seat, back-seat, or backseat? checkout, check-out, or check out? Is it under-achiever or underachiever? counter-clockwise or counterclockwise?

I’ve also included troublesome homonyms such as its and it’s; rein and reign; stationary and stationery; principal and principle; peek, peak, and pique; insure and ensure; complement and compliment; lightning and lightening, and many more.

For the sake of brevity and ease of use, definitions are rarely given in this resource, except in cases where the incorrect word is often mistakenly used.

So why wouldn’t you just rely on your word processor’s spell-checker? Because Word’s spell-checker is made up of words that users submit and in many cases is blatantly incorrect. 

All of the words in this list have all been verified as correct spelling or normal current usage. My main references are the two copyeditors’ and proofreaders’ “bibles,” Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary (M-W) and The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS); and for words that don’t appear in Merriam-Webster, I’ve chosen the spelling used in the majority of online dictionaries.

Click on the letters to go to words starting with those letters. To come back to the list, just click on “Home,” found on every page of this convenient resource.

Endorsements and Reviews for Quick Clicks: Spelling List:

“One word or Two? Hyphen or no hyphen? I never can keep all that straight. This books clears the air. A must for every writer.”~ DP Lyle, award-winning author of the Samantha Cody and Dub Walker thriller series

“This is a great resource for word usage, with clickable links that make it easy. I see it becoming indispensable.”~ L.J. Sellers, author of the bestselling Detective Jackson and Agent Dallas series

An Avid Listener, April 7, 2019:
5.0 out of 5 stars Fast and authoritative

"A dictionary has the correct spelling of all these words, but only Jodie Renner makes looking up words virtually instantaneous. Every word is quick-linked to the index pages, and every page links back to the index, so it's simply a matter of tapping and scrolling.

"Plus she's backed up every 'iffy' answer with my go-to sources, Merriam Webster and Chicago Manual of Style, so I know I'm right. (Asking "The Google" for correct spelling often yields decidedly nonstandard results.) Thanks, Jodie!"

“Must-have useful reference for editors and writers! The organization is brilliant.
“This time-saving reference is incredibly useful for writers and editors. It's a very well-organized book and the clickable links are absolutely one of the best features. I'm going to use this again and again!”
~ Eve Paludan, author and editor

“Indispensable tool for all writers, novice or seasoned. Once you start using this quick spelling resource, you’ll wonder how you ever managed without it.”
~ Los Angeles Writer

“A useful time-saver! Very easy to use. Convenient and slick.”
~ Mandrake 

“Lots of live links make it quick and easy to use!
“This guide to commonly misspelled words and phrases is a time-saver for any writer. Quick Clicks: Spelling List is a quick reference guide you can keep in the background of your work in progress. If you are not sure how to spell a word, whether it's hyphenated or not, or which of several homonyms is the right one, like peak or peek, weather or whether, etc., you can find the answer with a few clicks and get back to work quickly. This is a must-have resource. I give Quick Clicks: Spelling List a 5-star ranking as an indispensable writer's tool for spelling.”
~ John W. Kurtze

“To hyphenate or not to hyphenate . . . Is there an ‘e’ in there? this quick and easy to use guide helps with some of the most common spelling demons without me having to go to Google and sort through the results to get the best answer. Jodie is a great editor and this is the latest in her series of practical writing guides. You can keep it open on your Kindle or your computer-based Kindle app for easy reference during writing sessions. Grab it, you won't regret it.”
~ Patient Reader

A Superb Tool
“I haven’t owned Spelling on the Go [former title] for 24 hours yet and I’ve already used it four times. The layout is simple to use and can be navigated with ease. This is going to be one of those resources that people say ‘I can’t believe nobody thought of that before’ about.”
~ Brian Switzer

And check out the companion e-resource, Quick Clicks: Word Usage.

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three writing guides in her series An Editor's Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Writing a Killer Thriller, Fire up Your Fiction, and Captivate Your Readers, as well as two clickable time-saving e-resources, Quick Clicks: Spelling List and Quick Clicks: Word Usage. She has also organized and edited two anthologies for charity. www.JodieRenner.com

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Some Common Grammar Gaffes

by Jodie Renner, editor and author 

Is it "with Dave and me" or "with Dave and I"? Should it be"who" or "whom"? Do you "lie down" or "lay down"? Is it "the guy that just left" or "the guy who just left"? Is it "My Mom" or "My mom"? Should I use "that" or "which" there?

The English language is in a constant state of flux, evolving and changing along with technological changes, changes in attitude, the influence of other cultures, street language, slang expressions, etc. That means the English language is vibrant, not stagnant, just as is our society. Language needs to keep up with changes to facilitate communication.

But it’s probably a good thing to try to have some degree of consistency and standards, so we don’t all sink to the lowest common denominator of texting-style, “fast-food” language. [Sorry, I shake my head when I see "ur" in a Facebook post instead of "your"-- or "4" for "for," "r" for "are," or "u" for "you." How hard is it to type two more letters? It just reflects badly on the writer, I think.] Texting family and friends is one thing, but blog posts, articles, assignments, short stories, and fiction or nonfiction books require accurate spelling and correct grammar (except in dialogue, of course), in order to retain reader credibility and respect.
Here are a few common grammar blunders I see in my editing of books and my general reading. (All rules are per Chicago Manual of Style.)

"HE AND I" or "HIM AND ME"?

Is it “my brother and me” or “my brother and I”? That depends. 

Is it “Give the books to Jane and I,” or “Give the books to Jane and me.”?

Is it “Carol and me went with them,” or “Carol and I went with them.”?

Is it “She and Brad are coming, too,” or “Her and Brad are coming, too.”?

Here's a simple little trick to know whether to use “I” or “me”; “he” or“him”; “she” or “her” etc.:

Just take out the “and” and the other person’s name or pronoun. What are you left with? Does it make sense?

For example, which is it? “Him and his buddy are going fishing,” or “He and his buddy are going fishing.”

Take out “and his buddy.” Would you say “Him is going fishing” or “He is going fishing.”? 

Since you’d use “he” when it’s alone in the sentence, then you’d say, “He and his buddy are going fishing.”

Or is it “Leave your sister and I alone for a few minutes,” or “Leave your sister and me alone for a few minutes”?

To figure this out, take out "your sister and" and think of whether you’d say, “Leave I alone” or “Leave me alone.”

Since you’d say “Leave me alone,” then it has to be “Leave your sister and me alone.”

Apply this little trick to the first two examples above, and you’ll know it has to be “Give the books to Jane and me,” and “Carol and I went with them.”

And by the way, "between you and me" is correct.

I could get into a lengthy explanation about subject (nominative) pronouns and object (objective) pronouns, but if you just use that little gimmick, it works every time.

WHO vs. WHOM:

Even though nowadays, in casual conversation or dialogue in novels, “whom” often seems affected or pretentious and out of place, it’s good to know the correct usage for nonfiction writing, academic writing, journalistic writing, some narration, and dialogue spoken by educated characters.

Here’s the general rule:

Who is used for the subject of a verb or the doer of the action: “Who saw him?”

Whom is correct for the object of the verb, or the receiver of the action: “Whom did he see?”

Whom is correct usage after prepositions (by, for, to, with before, after, beside, in front of, etc.), e.g., By whom? For whom? With whom? To whom? “To whom are you referring?” “The woman for whom he gave his life.”

Quick trick: A quick way to remember which to use: Ask yourself whether the answer would be “he” or “him”. If he, use who, if him, use whom. Who went with you? He went with me. Whom did you see? I saw him

Test the “who –> he” vs “whom –> him” trick with these sentences:

Is it “Whom should I say is calling?” or “Who should I say is calling?”

(He is calling, so “who” is correct here.)

Is it “Who will you choose to go first?” or “Whom will you choose to go first?”

(You’ll choose him, so “whom” is correct here.)

As I mentioned, the use of “whom” in everyday conversation often seems somewhat affected these days. So, unless you want to come off as sounding pedantic, it’s best to avoid using “whom” in casual conversation with friends or family. Also, avoid whom in casual dialogue in fiction, especially (obviously!) when rough or uneducated people are talking! 

WHO, THAT, WHICH:

“that” for “who”:

 –  “that” is for things; “who” is for people. I’m probably not the only one who winced a bit the first 100 times I heard Katy Perry’s great song, “The One That Got Away.” I even heard the radio announcer saying, “It should be ‘The One WHO Got Away,’ of course!”

Examples of correct usage:
The children who were playing ran in when it started to rain. The bikes and toys that were left outside got wet.
The boats that were in the harbor got tossed around in the storm.
The ladies who organized the church tea were surprised at the attendance.

“that” versus “which”: 

(This one’s directed at North Americans, as Brits use “which” where we use “that,”)
Quick trick: An easy way to remember whether to use “which” or “that”:

 “which” always follows a comma, while “that” almost never follows a comma.

Or think of it this way: If the sentence doesn’t need the clause/phrase that comes after the word to make sense, use “which.” If what comes after the word is essential to the sentence, use “that.” 

Here's an example to illustrate: 

The library, which is on Main Street, has about 30,000 books.
The library that is on Main Street has about 30,000 books.

In the first sentence, the one with “which,” we don’t need the extra information that it’s on Main Street for the sentence to make sense, as there’s only one library, and it’s on Main Street.
In the second sentence, we need the “that” part, as that tells us we’re talking about the library on Main Street, not some other library in town. So what follows “that” is essential to the sentence. 

Let’s look at another example:

The car, which was a Toyota, was badly crumpled in the accident.
The car that was a Toyota was badly crumpled in the accident.

The first sentence implies that there was only one car in the accident, and by the way, it was a Toyota. That’s nonessential information, so it’s enclosed in commas and introduced by “which.”
The second sentence tells us there was more than one car involved in the accident, and that the Toyota, unlike the others, was badly crumpled. The “that” clause gives us essential information.
So another way to look at it is “which” introduces nonessential info, and “that” introduces essential info. 

LAY vs. LIE:
This one stumps a lot of people, even a bestselling author I know, who has emailed me a few times for a reminder of when to use “lie” and when to use “lay.” It’s very common to mix up these two, especially with their weird past tenses, which just complicate the issue.

Basically, you lay something down, but you lie down. So “lay” takes an object – a thing after it that you’re putting down. Not counting ourselves, so a person just lies down. And even if it’s a thing, if it’s already there and nobody’s in the act of putting it there, it’s lying there, not laying there.

Correct usages:

Present tense:

Lie: I like to lie in the hammock. Mom often lies down for a nap in the afternoon. Ricky is lying down on the grass.

Lay: She lays the baby in the bassinette every night. She is laying the baby down right now.

So far so good. But here’s where it gets weird: The past tense of “lay” is “laid,” as in “I laid the book on the table.” But the past tense of “lie” is “lay” as “She lay down on the couch for a nap yesterday.” Huh?! Just another of the many ways that English is weird and often illogical.

So to reiterate:

Lay requires a direct object: You lay something down. 

Lie does not require a direct object: You lie down.

The verb tenses of lay: 

Present: lay, is laying.  Lay the report on my desk.

Past: laid, has laid, was laying.  She laid the ring on the table and walked out; she had laid it there before.

The verb tenses of lie: 

Present: lie, is lying: Why don’t you lie down for a while? The book is lying on the table.

Past: lay, has lain, was lying. The little boy lay in the shade, fast asleep. He has lain there many times, in fact yesterday he was lying in that exact spot.

So: He laid (past tense of lay) the wreath on the grave, where it lay (past tense of lie) for a month.

If you think you'll forget all this stuff, especially the past tenses, just copy and paste this somewhere to help you remember. That’s what I did before I finally got it into my head! 

ERRORS IN CAPITALIZATION: 

There's often some confusion around capitalization of titles, family members, and places. Basically, it's "Mom" but "my mom," "Uncle Ted," but "his uncle,” etc. Also, "Doctor Edwards," but "the doctor," “Vancouver General Hospital” but “the hospital” and so on.

Use caps for proper nouns but not for generic nouns: 

the doctor, but Doctor Wilson; the president, but President Obama; the general, but General Eisenhower; the judge, but Judge Judy; the sergeant, but Sergeant Wilson; the prince, but Prince Charles; the police department, but the Chicago Police Department; the library, but New York Public Library, the hospital, but Toronto General Hospital. 

But when you’re addressing the president, it’s “Mr. President,” and when you’re addressing anyone else with a title, you still use the capital, even if you don’t use their name, as in “Yes, Sergeant, I’ll do that right away.” Also, “Yes, Your Majesty.” And “No, Your Honor.” 

But sir, ma’am, my lord, my lady, milady, etc. are not capitalized.  

Don’t capitalize terms of endearment or pet names, like dear, honey, sweetie, son, buddy, etc.: “Yes, dear.” 

Family names: Capitalize family names like father, mother, etc. only when using them as a name, as in “Dad, can I borrow the car keys?” or “Where’s Mom?” or “Thanks, Grandma,” but no caps when just referring to family members, as in “my dad” or “your mother,” or “his grandmother.”


Do you have any other grammar or style points that you'd like explained? Or any great little tricks for
remembering them? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

See also Common Grammar Gaffes, Part II (past perfect, misplaced modifiers)