Grammatical Error

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

47. Grammar and punctuation lessons

Posting grammar and punctuation lessons on the internet almost seems like like walking into a tiger cage while wearing a meat suit. Additionally, I am neither an English professor, nor do I have the time or the information necessary to devote to a real lesson. What I will say is that this is a subject on which the average person knows too little these days. I don’t think the problem is within the education system…it doesn’t really matter how well this sort of thing is taught because it’s, quite frankly, a boring subject that no kid is likely to be interested in. Personally, my theory is that the issue is in the fact that people don’t read nearly as much as they should. I understand that reading isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but many people can’t even be bothered to read a newspaper or a magazine article every now and then, and here’s the thing: you learn by experience. You can’t learn about grammar and punctuation – or spelling and sentence structure, or anything else for that matter – without seeing it in use. If you want to learn the rules, read them in action, see them in use. Pay attention and if you don’t understand something, Google is a wonderful thing.

One thing I can’t stress enough: if you’re planning on pursuing a future in writing, take the time to learn a little something about punctuation and grammar, along with spelling for good measure. Nothing will spell you out as a rank amateur faster than a blatant disregard for the rules of your own language.

Caution: Avoid At All Costs

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

43. Mistakes to avoid in manuscripts

My three answers to this prompt are based on personal experience with what I’ve seen people do when submitting excerpts to be critiqued on Critique Circle. If you’re a writer and you’re reading this, feel free to add suggestions of your own in the comments.

– One major thing I notice is that tons of people (at least when they’re looking for critiques) pass along pieces of their work that are drowning in spelling, grammatical, and punctuation errors. This is a huge turnoff for anyone who is reading the piece, whether it be for critique, editing, or publishing purposes. I know that no one is perfect, definitely not myself, and that mistakes will be made, but when you’re reading a piece and you find ten spelling errors in the first half a dozen sentences, you begin to wonder if the piece was submitted to you by a five-year-old. Additionally, I’m sorry, but if you don’t have a half-decent grasp on grammar and punctuation, you might have to reconsider your field. Again, I know no one is perfect – I myself often feel that I’m putting in way too many commas while also feeling that every single one is justified – but if the person reading your piece is finding at least one mistake in every single sentence, you are absolutely not going to be taken seriously.

– Word abuse is a complaint I’ve come across many times, and I can definitely understand why. Have you ever read a book in which the author seemed obsessed with a few particular words or phrases and used them constantly to the point that it was both noticeable and annoying? I definitely have. It’s not something that any writer does on purpose (at least I don’t believe so), but sometimes there is just a word you enjoy and so it weasels its way into your work over and over again. I myself have a tendency to overuse the word “incredulous”. I don’t know why, but it seems to come up constantly and makes editing a nightmare as I struggle for different words to use to break up the bad habit.

– The dreaded Mary-Sue Effect, or more recently known as the Bella Swan Conundrum. If you’ve never heard of a Mary Sue, it’s a name given to characters who are unnaturally perfect, with no discernible flaws to speak of. These characters are written to be the ideal person, loved by everyone, someone who never makes mistakes and is naturally perfect at everything that matters. These types of characters have existed for a long time, but one of the new pop-culture-reference examples is Bella Swan from the Twilight Saga. Bella is not special in any way, other than for the fact that the psychic vampire Edward Cullen cannot read her mind. And yet, despite her decidedly common nature, she is portrayed as (to put it bluntly) the Center of the Universe. All the male characters love her, except for the ones who think her important enough to want to kill. She is constantly surrounded by danger, drama, and conflict, and she always comes out of it completely unscathed. She succeeds in everything she tries. This is not how a main character should be. Some readers love this kind of character because they like to imagine that they are that character…this is called wish fulfillment, and while it can serve it’s purpose, it is not good literature. Good characters should have flaws. They should make stupid mistakes and suffer for them. They should have to struggle for their successes, and they should have to deal with all the same issues that life throws at all of us. If you want to make a good character, make them real, not ideal.

The Infamous Agent

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

42. How not to get an agent

If you’ve been paying attention to any of my previous posts, you know that I don’t have an agent. I have no writing career to speak of, aside from my ambitions and will-be-finished-someday-soon-I-swear manuscript. As a result I’ve had to do a bit of research on the next few prompts, since they all involve information that only someone who had put actual effort into a serious writing career would know.

For how NOT to get an agent, I’ve snatched a few ideas that I found from actual agents explaining what not to do if you want them to pay any attention to you.

If you do NOT want to get yourself an agent…

…send them a query letter that talks about how wonderful your book is. They will be the judge of that.

…send them a manuscript of a genre that they have stated they do not represent.

…waste time and energy telling them your entire life story when you should be focusing on the important information about your manuscript.

…send them a manuscript that is rife with spelling and grammatical errors.

…contact them in inappropriate ways, i.e. stalking their Facebook page, calling their home phone number, etc.

…reply to a rejection with anger; seriously people, grow up. You’re supposed to be a professional.

…beg and plead for them to accept you. Again, I say, grow up.

So there you have it. Pick a couple of the above suggestions, have at it, and you’ll not have an agent in no time!


A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

41. How a hobby has made you a better writer

I gave myself a night to think about this one, and when I woke up in the morning I had realized the truth: pretty much all of my hobbies have made me a better writer. No, I’m not joking or exaggerating. Seriously, almost all of my hobbies lend themselves to writing in one way or another.

Hobby #1: Reading
This one should be pretty self-explanatory. I love to read, and what better way to learn about pacing, sentence structure, spelling, grammar, setting, etc.

Hobby #2: Video Games
It sounds unlikely, and parents and teachers would probably baulk at the idea that playing video games can be excellent for improving one of the finer arts, but those parents and teachers would be closed-minded. Video games – even the older, significantly less advanced ones – can have rich worlds filled with action, adventure, romance, horror, mystery…you name it! Video games are excellent inspiration for ideas. They’ve even helped me practice my writing via fanfiction (I’ve written several chapters of a Final Fantasy 3/6 fanfiction and also started a Chrono Trigger one as well).

Hobby #3: Movies
This one is more my husband’s hobby than mine, but I guess it’s mine by proxy since I do, in fact, enjoy the movies. This falls under the same category as video games; movies are excellent for inspiration, and if it was a particularly good movie, the kind that gives you shivers and has you thinking about the plot line for days later, it can even be just plain motivational. In other words, experiencing such an amazing story makes you want to write one of your own.

Hobby #4: Writing
Seriously, you didn’t see this one coming? Writing has been one of my most predominant hobbies since I was in grade school. From little one-page scenes my best friend and I would write back and forth to one another during class, to a very powerful fanfiction obsession in college, to the manuscript I’m still working on editing, I’ve been writing for fun for the past 20 years or so. And isn’t that the most important part of being a writer? Actually putting in the effort to write? Or is this just my clever way of saying that I’ve already run out of hobbies to list? That’s up for you to decide.

I’m just saying…

I have a pet peeve concerning wannabe writers.

I’m not the type to purposely discourage someone from following a dream. In fact, I’m more the type of person to grit my teeth and encourage someone while wracking my brain to figure out how to gently let them know what they’re doing wrong. Unfortunately that’s not always as easy as it sounds. How do you, for example, tell someone that they have an awful voice when it’s their one and only dream to become a singer? If you have any level of empathy in your body, you don’t, because how would you feel if someone did the same thing to you?

That said, I’ve been spending a lot of time on a particular website where writers of every skill level can post pieces of their work and have them critiqued. It’s a great place to learn about your own writing style, what things you can improve upon, and what people like about your piece in general. The site is filled with people who’ve published works, and people who are trying out writing for the very first time.

It’s the latter that bother me.

Don’t get me wrong; not all the beginners make me cringe. Some of them are quite good and just need a little refining. And for goodness sake, don’t take me for someone who thinks that her own work is infallible…I know damn well that I’ve got improvements to make. My real problem, my pet peeve as it were, is with the first-time writers and wannabe writers who have absolutely no grasp on the English language.

I’m not a Grammar Nazi, I’m really not. If someone makes one little mistake I don’t go jumping down their throat as though they just murdered language itself. However, I beg wannabe writers to consider the following:

– If you don’t know the difference between words such as there, their, and they’re;
– If you have no idea what a colon is used for;
– If you don’t realize that there is a difference between quotation marks and apostrophes;
– If you constantly and consistently use improper slang words because you genuinely don’t know the real word you should be using;
– You have such poor spelling that your entire word processor file is underlined in red;

If any or all of these apply, please, please, please, work on your English skills before attempting to become a writer. As one of the people critiquing your works, it’s particularly difficult to concentrate on whether or not your story has merit when I’m fixing half a dozen grammatical errors per sentence. Again, I’m not saying I never make mistakes…to this day I still screw up its and it’s…but if you can’t write one or two sentences without having misspellings and punctuation missing/in the wrong spots, then you need to rethink whether you currently have the skills that you are going to require to become an author.