Tuesday, September 1st, 2009
Writerly Wednesday on Grammar – Semicolons

Writerly Wednesday

Semicolons seem to cause a lot of confusion among writers, to the point that I’ve heard some writers say they are stupid to use or should be banned. But semicolons serve a purpose in writing, even in fiction, and should be used when needed but not overused.

The most common use of a semicolon in fiction is to replace a period and connect two independent clauses without one of the coordinating conjunctions (and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet).

The snow came down in huge drifts; we still managed to get to the party.

You can also use a semicolon to connect two independent clauses with one of the conjunctive adverbs (however, moreover, therefore, consequently, otherwise, etc.)

I wanted to stay home and warm; nevertheless, I went to my family’s formal dinner.

Semicolons are also used when you have a series and the units of the series contain commas. Then a semicolon is used to separate the units.

My itinerary includes Paris, France; London, England; and Dublin, Ireland.

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009
Writerly Wednesday on Grammar – Hyphens

Writerly Wednesday

The rules for when a hyphen is used can be a bit confusing because there’s just not a ton of agreement on it and it’s changing all the time. The best advice is to keep a dictionary handy and try looking up the word first. If you can’t find the compound word in the dictionary, treat it as two separate words.

Put simply, hyphens are used to join two words into a compound word.
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Wednesday, August 19th, 2009
Writerly Wednesday on Grammar – Adverbs

Writerly Wednesday

Adverbs are words that modify the meaning of verbs, adjectives or other adverbs. These are often called the “ly” words but it’s not a universal rule that adverbs must end in “ly”. Adverbs are not used to modify nouns.

Adverbs are a perfectly correct part of the English language yet they are frowned on when you are writing fiction in particular. Why is that, when they do a valid job and are not grammatically incorrect?

Well, a sparing and judicious use of adverbs is actually quite acceptable, even in fiction. The problems come about when adverbs are over-used because it’s a sign that the verb they are modifying is too generic or too weak for what you are trying to convey.

For example:

  • “She ran around the corner.” – This is boring and it could convey just about any mood.
  • “She quickly ran around the corner.” – The adverb “quickly” helps set a bit of a mood of haste or hurry.
  • “She raced around the corner.” – This is a better verb choice as it no longer needs the adverb’s help to set the mood.

Adverbs are also considered a sign of “telling” the action to the reader by making the action obvious. It’s a weakness.

In the example above, “ran” is too weak a verb. It can mean too many things (a jog, a panicked run, a terrified fleeing?) and it’s too generic. Because it’s so generic, it makes the sentence almost disappear and become invisible. If that’s what is intended, it’s okay. But if you want to convey emotion or mood, it needs to be stronger.

The one real exception to this is dialogue. The characters need to speak naturally and in accordance with their word and selves and this can mean a more frequent use of adverbs.

So whenever you are tempted to use an adverb, stop and see if you can find a more descriptive verb, adverb or adjective to use instead. Is there a single word that can convey your meaning instead? If you don’t know one off the top of your head, try looking up synonyms or looking in a dictionary. It’s worthwhile.

When you’re almost ready to submit, take the time to search your manuscript for words ending in “ly” and see how many are left. Can you replace any of them with a stronger, more specific, word?

Monday, June 8th, 2009
Guest Blogging Today on The Sweet Flag

Take a look to see my thoughts on the biggest “do Nots” for writing science fiction and fantasy from an editor’s point of view!

You can read my post here!

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008
Test Reading

Writerly Wednesday

Most authors are familiar with the idea of a critique partner or critique groups. Some authors have one (or more) but some are quite happy writing alone.

Another source of valuable input and feedback is a test reader. While critique partners or groups tend to give you feedback as you go and often help plot the book along the way, a test or beta reader takes your finished or mostly finished material and reads it as a savvy reader without advanced knowledge. The test reader, in essence, is your first check of what your regular readers will think.

The job of the test reader is to read the story and make notes of anything that pulls them out of the story, any time they are bored and want to just skip ahead, and times where things don’t make sense. In general, they don’t worry about spelling or grammar unless it’s so bad it really impacts their ability to read and enjoy the story.

Not all test readers are created the same, however. An effective and thorough test reader is one that gives you value back for the chance to read the story ahead of time. You may have to try multiple people before you find just one really GOOD test reader.

A test reading gives you some assurance that you story, when picked up off a shelf, makes sense, reads well and will most likely please your readers (and editor).