Apr 7, 2012

A to Z - Grammar

Seriously what did you expect from a high school English teacher???  And I really could make this a series (maybe something for the summer), but I'm just hitting two points that I think will help writers now.

Chances are, if you didn't like English in high school, this might have been a big reason.  And no, I'm not talking about how to diagram sentences or  anything else that might make you revert back to traumatizing events in your adolescent life.  I'm talking about real, implementable, make your writing fantastic tips.

One of the most important things writer's need to consider is sentence variation.  This is both in length and in word variety.  As I do teach teens, many of them don't even realize how many of their sentences all start with the same word.  Over and over, it becomes very monotonous, and while most writers at the higher level don't have this exact issue, there is still the tendency to have teddy bear words - words that are just comfortable and that we are used to so we keep using them.

Do me a favor, and go read one page of your WIP.  If you have these words, they will be easily identifiable.  Feel free to use the thesaurus as your new best imaginary friend (we all have them - it's okay), but remember to know the meaning of the word you are substituting.

Second - dialogue tags.  These can either be ridiculously over done or so repetitive that everything starts or ends with said.  

Example One:

"Hello," she said as the pale pink chiffon curtains danced slowly to the waltz being played by the breeze as it whispered through the trees from which her one true love had emerged.

Example Two: 

"Hello," she said.  
"Hi, he said."  
"I didn't think you were coming," she said.  
He said, "I couldn't stay away."

What are the little grammatical errors that, when you see them, make little sirens go off in your head?


Susan Roebuck said...

I didn't think of Grammar for G - good one! I always thought I did pretty well at grammar until I went through the publishing process. Oh dear, my commas are all wonky, I didn't know the difference between further and farther and I had eyes "travelling". Well, I suppose that's not grammar, but it all boils down to the same thing: accuracy.

welcome to my world of poetry said...

My grammar leaves much to be desired.
A great G post and one I found intresting .

You asked yesterday where in the UK I lived, well I live at a place called Bournemouth which is on the south coast.
Birmingham is quite a distance from me and is in what we call the Mildlands.

Happy Easter.


Elise Fallson said...

Hello, visiting from A-Z.
"Teddy bear words" I love that description. And yep, I have a couple teddy bears in my wip I'm going to have to change. Thanks for the tips!

Timothy Brannan said...

I was just explaining to my kids yesterday that I wish I had spent more time studying grammar in school. It would have made my work these days so much easier.

I am trying to read all the A to Z blogs, but coming back to the ones I really like.
Looking forward to seeing what you do all month!

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Bish Denham said...

To help myself, I compiled a list of over used words and made a page for them on my blog. I get more hits on that page that any other. And, I'm slowly working through them making a list of synonyms/alternatives for each word.

Simon Kewin said...

Great advice. I like the "teddy bear words" - I definitely do that but I'm learning to be more aware of them.

Cindy said...

Great tips. Since I've begun blogging I've noticed how my sentences begin with the same word...usually 'I'. :)

junebug said...

I agree I have go-to words and I've made a list of them to search every time I'm editing a WIP and try to fix them. In addition, I must admit I blog in more of an informal type of writing which is very different from my formal acedemic writing. My informal blog writing has certain grammar nuances I'm ok with using even if it drives other people nuts. I will admit it has allowed me to develop a few bad habits.

Guilie said...

Teddy bear words--genius! Comfy and somewhat overused, but we're attached to them and don't even notice them. Mine are related to "smile" (grin, smirk, etc.), and I really have to make an effort to find alternative descriptions.

My pet grammar peeve, the one that turns me off and makes me dismiss people (I know, I'm a horrible person) is the misuse of the apostrophe-S. In Dutch it's common to make plurals of some words, especially those of foreign origin, by adding apostrophe-S: DVD's, CD's. But when extended to English writing, it makes me cringe. Or the mix-up between "its" and "it's"--how difficult is it, really, to remember that "it's" is a contraction of "it" + "is", and "its" is the possessive?

Yeah... Don't get me started on grammar :)

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

The sentence variation thing gets me. I notice if I'm starting too many sentences or paragraphs with the same words, but I find whole paragraphs with all the same sentence structure throughout. Ugh.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

The sentence variation thing gets me. I notice if I'm starting too many sentences or paragraphs with the same words, but I find whole paragraphs with all the same sentence structure throughout. Ugh.

Danielle B. said...

I think that's what I question all the time. I'm very picky over my writing.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I began with sentences that were all about the same length but have learned to vary that. Still fight the repetitive words but 'find next' in Word helps me eliminate many. (Usually after my critique partners have noted which ones of course.)

Annalisa Crawford said...

Your first example would have me throwing the book across the room and probably encouraging the dog to play fetch with it.

Deana said...

I'm not as bad with the second one, but that first one is a doozy for me:) I always have to go through and do a find a replace on my favorite words. Thank goodness for that at least!

Jasmine Walt said...

Great post! My pet peeve is when people misuse apostrophe's (there's an example somewhere in your blog post... can you find it? ;) ). I have started doing an exercise where I consciously make an effort not to use a personal pronoun at the beginning of my sentences more than once per paragraph.

Leigh Covington said...

Too much "he said," "she said" is NOT a good thing. Variation is awesome. It helps with the flow. I love flowing sentences too. Especially when they're done right.

And thanks for your sweet words on my blog Thursday. You're awesome. I'm so lucky to have gotten to know you!

Donna K. Weaver said...

I've been seeing some really crazy uses of semicolons lately. I mentioned it to an author/editor friend of mine, and she said they shouldn't be used unless you're sure how to use them. =D

And grammar has different styles. Just because I really like the oxford comma doesn't mean other styles do. But they're both correct. You just need to be consistent.

Clarissa Draper said...

When I first started writing, I used to start with the same word and it was usually a pronoun. However, now I'm sensitive about it. My grammar still sucks but I'm learning.

Andrew Leon said...

I want to say that grammar is for editors, but I don't really believe that. I don't believe you can actually be an accomplished writer if you can't use the language effectively. It doesn't matter how good your story is if you can't tell it in a way that's interesting.

Rob and Lisa said...

I love grammar and often refer to myself as the grammar police. I have a lot of pet peeves when it comes to grammar :)

Melissa Sugar said...

I love the term, "teddy bear" words. I know I have them, I don't have to look. I have to wait until I am revising to search for replacement words (even though I am aware of my problem ones) because when I try to do it while writing I lose my flow.

Thanks for the grammar tips.

Sarah Pearson said...

I think commas are my long lost friends. I surround my writing with them :-)

Theresa Milstein said...

I notice many writers don't know the difference between it's and its.

Shannon... said...

Personally, I use "..." way to much! Have to work on that.
Good luck with the Challenge.

Eliza Wynn said...

I've been seeing "myself" used as the subject quite a bit lately. (Example: Myself and Sandy will provide the snacks.) It makes me want to scream.

Other than that, overused apostrophes and ellipses probably bother me the most.

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Maria said...

I'm not the best with grammar, I do try though...

Good post.