I have always thought that writing killer fiction takes two things.
- You need an intriguing story and good characters.
- You need to be able to tell that story in a intriguing and understandable way.
I don’t write much about grammar here, but grammar is important because it’s a major, major factor in the second bullet point above. There are others as well, of course: pacing, transitions, readability. But grammar has a huge impact on how effectively you tell your story. I have seen SO many reviews of self-published authors who don’t have good grammar and didn’t use an editor, reviews that say things like, “The story was good but I couldn’t really get into it because the grammar mistakes distracted me.” Or, even worse: “I couldn’t even finish it the grammar was so bad.”
Here are the grammar mistakes I particularly freak out about when I find them in my writing, and the mistakes that, if appearing consistently, will bring me to put down a novel.
- DANGLING MODIFIERS. I might need to devote a whole post to this one. Dangling modifiers are so horrible because when you use them, you’re not saying what you think you’re saying. Never forget that when you start a sentence with a gerund clause, the subject of that gerund (an -ing word) must come directly after that clause. So, if I say, “Peering through the room, the windows had dark curtains and the furniture was clearly secondhand,” what am I saying? I’m saying the windows are sentient and are looking around. Seriously. It has to be, “Peering through the room, he noted…” or something like that. (The plus side of dangling modifiers is that they can be really amusing!)
- ITS and IT’S. For some reason, confusion between “its” and “it’s” bugs me a heck of a lot more than “two/to/too” or “they’re/there/their.” This gets confusing because English often uses an apostrophe to mark possession. Still, “its” is the possessive. “The dog raised its paw.” “It’s” is a contraction for “it is.”
- COMMA SPLICES. These make me want to rip my hair out, and I’m not sure why. They just do. I’ve had to stop reading a blog with really interesting and moving content because I could not get past the invasion of the comma splices. I’m not proud of it, but it’s the truth. So remember, commas don’t join two independent clauses, or sentences. Semicolons do that. If you want to use a comma, you need a conjunction (and, but, or) to follow. So you really shouldn’t write, “The carriage was broken and the driver couldn’t take it out, the duke would just have to wait.” Make that comma a period, or insert “so” behind it. Conjunction Junction: Let’s all go to there!
- DIRECT ADDRESS. When someone’s speaking to someone and uses that person’s name or title, proper punctuation is to set that name off with a comma. Thus: “I’ll see it done, Mr. President.” “Jane, what are you talking about?” “I’m telling you, Maud, I just don’t know what’s happening these days.” Also, as to mother and father, mom and dad: when you’re talking to that person or about that person and using those titles as a proper name, they’re capitalized. But only in that instance. So, you get “Tell your father” and “Tell the girl’s father,” but “Tell Father.” Somewhat confusing, but worthwhile to get straight.
- IRREGARDLESS. This is not a word. Regardless of what many think, it is not a word. Please, in the name of all that’s holy, don’t treat it as one!
Looking at the list, over half are matters of punctuation. I admit I’m a stickler for punctuation, but that’s because I respect it. I think we should all respect it. After all–like that e-card going around Facebook says: