SMC: Revision and Grammar Class Pt 2

Welcome to Part 2 of the lengthy but informative class on revision and grammar. Annette Lyon taught this class and has a great grammar book out for cheaps at $1.50 on the Kindle.

Let’s get to getting.

QUALIFYING ABSOLUTES

Her hint? Don’t. What do we mean by this? Don’t add these words:

  • very
  • really
  • extremely (etc.)

To these words:

  • unique
  • essential
  • fatal
  • perfect
  • true
  • dead

Either it is, or it isn’t. And unless you’re Miracle Max, dead is dead.

PUNCTUATION MATTERS

She only used one example for this. Are you ready? I thought it made the point quite nicely.

I. Love. How.
When. You. Read.
This. Your. Voice.
Pauses. In.
Your. Head.

Any questions? Okay, moving right along.

MY KINGDOM FOR A COMMA!

Continuing in the spirit of “punctuation matters,” let’s go to commas. Comma placement can make or break the meaning of some of your sentences and if placed appropriately can bring clarity. Here were some examples she used, see if you can spot what’s wrong with them.

  • Through the wall Bob heard a sound.
  • Everyone seemed to be having fun with the exception of Sally.
  • Did you know that Tom? (The rule: always have a comma before the name of the person you’re addressing in this type of situation.)
  • Take that migraine!
  • She gasped at the sight of David in the cloakroom hanging his jacket on a hook.
  • Let’s eat Grandma.

Make sure your readers are able to understand what you want to tell them by paying attention to commas.

WHEN COMMAS ARE NOT YOUR FRIEND

Sometimes we use commas in the wrong way which can also cause confusion with readers. Examine these examples and see if you can find what’s wrong with them.

  • Lighting a candle, she settled beneath the covers.
  • Tying her shoes, she ran out the door.

It doesn’t work to shove these clauses together because it indicates instantaneous action. The first would suggest she has the candle with her under the covers and the second we wonder how she possible ran while tying her shoes.

SEARCH AND DESTROY

These are words and problems to look for in your manuscript to do some de-cluttering and maybe get that word count down to reasonable lengths. First up? Do a search for there are / there were / there is.

Ex: There was nothing in her personality that hinted of arrogance.
There is someone else who already knows. (Hint: You can delete both of the beginnings without losing anything but excessive words.)

When it comes to prepositions and phrases: one preposition in a sentence is enough. Bad examples:

  • down onto
  • she climbed up out
  • she sat back down onto the chair
  • they walked toward the river in unison out of the forest
  • called out into the phone

Here are some general garbage words you can for the most part delete with ease: very, really, a bit, immediately, suddenly, any, well, just.

And don’t go into that overload. If the meaning is in doubt, use it. If not, CUT IT!

MALAPROP FUN!

She mentioned visiting Zina over at My Imaginary Blog for some good malaprop fun. Nothing says amateur like a good malaprop. And the trouble is, Word won’t catch it. (This is where beta readers and a good command of words comes in handy).The examples. Spot the errors:

  • He felt a twinge of guild.
  • Oh, was he ever hansom!
  • His fighting stile reminded him of Batman.
  • The foot solder walked into the room.
  • Don’t brake the contract.
  • She peaked through the window.
  • She honed in.

DEFINE IT

Make sure your readers understand what it means. It can sometimes be too ambiguous. Often it tells rather than shows. Examples:

  • It was so awesome being in the marched band.
  • Paula knew it would be the best thing ever.
  • Frank couldn’t take it.

SUBJUNCTIVE

The subjunctive form uses were. Subjunctive refers to things contrary to fact. If the character doesn’t know, use was. If the truth is in doubt, use was. She said if you, yourself, are ever in doubt, use was because in most cases it’s the correct option and less annoying to an editor to fix a couple was issues than a bunch of were. (One of her examples was the Carpenters and Grammar Girl has a more in-depth article with her example as “If I Were a Rich Man.”)

THE VS. A

‘A’ imples something generic. ‘The’ implies an item we already know. Example: She felt the tears falling down her cheeks. <-This is the wrong use because typically we haven’t been familiar with tears on her cheeks if they’re first falling. She felt a tear fall down her cheek, is better.

And a few more tips we went over quickly, watch your novel for tense shifts. Sometimes we have present and past tense mixed together. Watch for POV intrusions (head-hopping), and don’t use the word literally incorrectly.

COMMA SPLICES

An independent clause is something that stands on it own. So  a comma splice comes into play when we try and connect two independent clauses with only a comma. Example:

Joe read the book, he loaned it to his sister.

How do you fix comma splices? 1) Separate them with a period. 2) Add a comma + conjunction. 3) Make one side dependent so it needs the other independent clause.

SEMICOLONS

They connect related ideas. It’s a shorter beat (pause) than a period. But it is NOT the same as a colon. Example:

I’m not a poet; I can’t writer a love letter.

EM DASH

The em dash is the long dash—like this. Often in Word and other programs you can get an em dash by typing two hyphens in between the words you want the em dash to be. She said no spaces between, like — this or like – this.

JAE NOTE: Because I get into fights with other writers about this, I asked about the use of em dashes and ellipsis in dialogue. I’m happy to report I wasn’t fighting in vain. When dialogue is interrupted or abruptly stops, use an em dash. When dialogue trails off, unfinished, use an ellipsis.

Use the em dash to avoid parenthesis. There should be no parenthesis in your fiction novel. Some good examples:

He ducked under the cloth to judge the angle of the camera—and to avoid his mother.
We made it—barely—through the asteroid field.

THE END

And just in the nick of time too. I really didn’t want to do a Part 3. Okay, so are you convinced? Ready to go out and buy Annette Lyon’s book now? May your novel be free of these errors!

Did you learn a lot? Anything you would add?

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6 thoughts on “SMC: Revision and Grammar Class Pt 2

  1. Good part two. Is that ‘commas are not your friend’ the same as the hanging participle? I do have trouble with those.

    I sometimes get confused with the subjunctive because in Latin it’s used for a few things, one of which is the conditional.

    • Ah, the editing stage. I used to hate this stage, but after going through so many rewrites and seeing what a story can become because of it, I fully embrace it. Nice work getting so close to the editing stage!

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