Category Archives: Shirley McLain

Six Easy Grammer and Format Tips

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Grammer

The following blog is from BubbleCow which I received this morning.  Because of my editing on Princess Adele’s Dragon, I seem to be paying a lot more attention when I see these helpful tips. I wanted to share it.  Have a blessed day.  Shirley

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I’m talking about that dirty word: grammar.

But more than that, I’m also talking about formatting, which is kind of like grammar for the computer-age. Bold statements aside, if you want to be taken seriously by publishers, editors, and readers, then you’ve got to get your head around formatting conventions on word processors. I often joke that you wouldn’t start playing a sport without first reading the rules. It is the same for writing. You need to be getting the basics correct; there’s no excuse. As a writer, you simply need to know this stuff.

I’m a big fan of writing software in general and favour a whole host of different word processors. However, Microsoft Word is still the industry standard, so I’ll be using that as a reference point. These rules will still apply whether you’re using Scrivener, OpenOffice, LibreOffice, or whatever your software of choice is.

OK, so with all that said, here’s the six grammar/formatting issues that drive us mad:

Ellipses – yep. They showed up last week and they’re back again. A few of you seemed unclear as to the nature of an ellipsis. Well, an ellipsis is the three dots writers use to denote an omission or to show a pause in speech. Here at BubbleCow, we often receive manuscripts where the writer has thrown in a few ellipses but with variable numbers of dots. In fact, some writers seem to think that the more dots they add, the more mysterious and tantalising their cliff-hanger becomes. “I was never there…………………… OR WAS I?” Oh dear. Ellipses only ever have three dots. No more, no fewer.

Two other things to say about ellipses. The correct way to write an ellipsis is . . . – that’s dot space dot space dot. The problem is that this plays havoc with some eBook conversion tools. Therefore, our house style is to alter them to … (three dots with no spaces). This will be picked up in the conversion process and handled correctly.

What about when an ellipsis is used at the end of the sentence? What happens to that extra full stop? Should it be three dots (…) or three and a full stop (… .). The answer is a little confusing. There’s no set rule on this, with different style guides opting for different options. At BubbleCow, our house style ignores that last full stop. Just the three dots for us, please.

Here’s a great LINK to an article on ellipses.

Writing numbers – this, confusingly, is not another case of consistency. Now, we get hundreds of manuscripts where the writers rather sensibly choose to either use either purely numeric or purely written numbers for the entirety of their manuscripts. Then we get those who arbitrarily use a mixture of the two. Strangely, both parties are wrong in this case. Our house style (based on the Chicago Manual of Style) is as follows: numbers up to 100 must be written in words – so: one, seventeen, ninety-four. After that this becomes a little time consuming, so we allow these larger numbers to be written in digits: 1003, 784, 100,000. All you have to remember is that 100 is the magic number.

Spaces – now I know what you’re thinking. How can anyone mess up a space? Do we receive manuscripts that are just spaceless walls of interlinked words? The answer is no.

I’m talking about making sure that you’re only using one space between words. Now I know how it is – you’re writing passages, deleting them later on, shuffling around paragraphs – things get messy. But I recently ran a find-and-replace on a manuscript and it found 384 instances where two spaces had snuck in instead of one.

We’ve talked about single and double spacing before and it kicked up a bit of a storm. You see back in the olden days of typewriters and typesetting, double-spacing was standard. Those days are over! Double spaces are a nightmare for those unlucky publishers who’re in charge of creating eBooks. They mess up the formatting, resulting in unattractive, oddly-spaced electronic books that inevitably have to scrapped and redone. Our advice? Stick to one space.

Page breaks – this one is easy. The reason I’ve listed it here is because eBook conversions rely on page breaks between chapters. They will see the page break and understand that they need to do something special. If you’ve just pressed Enter a load of time to move the text to the next page you are in trouble. Not only will the conversion process potentially miss the chapter break but you’ll also lose the positioning if you then add or remove text in the chapter.

The bottom line is that you should always use a page break to go to the next page before starting a new chapter. This makes for a clean and presentable eBook, and will also help the printers if you’re going to print copies.

Paragraph breaks versus line breaks – these two phenomena might need explaining as they’re both pretty similar. Indeed, Microsoft Word didn’t start distinguishing between them until about 2003 (don’t quote me on this), but in modern word processing, the difference is very important.

OK, if you open up Word, type “BubbleCow is great,” and then press Enter, you’ll notice that the cursor jumps down to the line below, leaving some space between the previous line and the new one. This is a paragraph break. This is the one you want.

If, however, you were to hold Shift and then press Enter, the resulting new line would be right up beneath “BubbleCow is great,” with no space between them.

A great way of checking this is to use the Show/Hide Nonprinting Characters button, found on the Home tab in Word (it’s the odd black backwards P symbol). A paragraph break will show up as one of these backward-Ps, whereas a line break will be a cornering arrow. You want the P.

Line breaks are a nightmare for those in charge of formatting your masterwork – it groups all the text together, which means that text becomes harder to arrange on the page and stubborn in its disobedience. Using line breaks to create space (at the end of a chapter, for example, so you can get that page break in) can create nightmares for eBook conversions. Paragraph breaks all the way. One of the first things I do with a new manuscript is to find and replace all line breaks with paragraph breaks.

Indentation – those pesky line breaks also have a habit of messing up any system of indentation you might (should) have going. Indents only trigger on paragraph breaks, so there’s an extra reason always to paragraph break! But indents are important in their right.

Here at BubbleCow, we want the first paragraph of each chapter to be a straight flush, with the first sentence in line with the following sentences. After that, though, every paragraph needs its first line to be indented using the Tab key (not spaces! These tend to be messier and can disappear during the eBook conversion process). Again, this is one of the first things we add when we receive a new manuscript, as it helps your manuscript appear clean, streamlined, and readable. It also makes eBook versions far more attractive and is necessary for the conversion process.

 

8 Words to Seek & Destroy in Your Writing

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This is a piece previously posted by Robbie Blair that contains useful information that I want to share with you. Since I’m in the process of doing my final edit on Princess Adele’s Dragon I found this article helped me.  Maybe it can help you also.  Have a blessed week.  Shirley

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Creating powerful prose requires killing off the words, phrases, and sentences that gum up your text. While a critical eye and good judgment are key in this process, some terms almost always get in the way. Here are eight words or phrases that should be hunted down in your story and deleted with extreme prejudice.

“Suddenly”

“Sudden” means quickly and without warning, but using the word “suddenly” both slows down the action and warns your reader. Do you know what’s more effective for creating the sense of the sudden? Just saying what happens.

I pay attention to every motion, every movement, my eyes locked on them.
Suddenly, The gun goes off.

When using “suddenly,” you communicate through the narrator that the action seemed sudden. By jumping directly into the action, you allow the reader to experience that suddenness first hand. “Suddenly” also suffers from being nondescript, failing to communicate the nature of the action itself; providing no sensory experience or concrete fact to hold on to. Just … suddenly.

Feel free to employ “suddenly” in situations where the suddenness is not apparent in the action itself. For example, in “Suddenly, I don’t hate you anymore,” the “suddenly” substantially changes the way we think about the shift in emotional calibration.

“Then”

“Then” points vaguely to the existing timeline and says, “It was after that last thing I talked about.” But the new action taking place in a subsequent sentence or sentence part implies that much already. You can almost always eliminate your thens without disrupting meaning or flow.

I woke up. Then I, brushed my teeth. Then I, combed my hair. Then I , and went to work.

“Then” should be used as a clarifying agent, to communicate that two seemingly concurrent actions are happening in sequence. For example, “I drove to the supermarket. Then I realized I didn’t need to buy anything.” Without the “then,” it would be easy to mistake this as pre-existing knowledge or as a realization that happened during the drive itself. “Then” can occasionally be useful for sentence flow, but keep the use of the word to a minimum.

“In order to”

You almost never need the phrase “in order to” to express a point. The only situation where it’s appropriate to use this phrase is when using “to” alone would create ambiguity or confusion.

I’m giving you the antidote in order to save you.

And after ten minutes of brainstorming for an example of a proper time to use “in order to,” I haven’t been able to come up with anything. Legitimate uses of “in order to” are just that few and far between.

“Very” and “Really”

Words are self-contained descriptors, and saying, “Think of tasty. Now think of more tasty” doesn’t help readers develop a better sense of the meal or person you’re describing.

Her breath was very cold chill as ice against my neck .

Mark Twain suggested that writers could “substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” Another strategy is to find a more powerful version of the same idea or give concrete details. To say “It was very/really/damn hot” does little, but saying “It was scorching” helps. Even better?: “The air rippled like desert sky as my body crisped into a reddened, dried-out husk.”

“Is”

Is, am, are, was, or were—whatever form your “is” takes, it’s likely useless. When’s the last time you and your friends just “was’d” for a while? Have you ever said, “Hey, guys, I can’t—I’m busy am-ing”?

The “is” verbs are connecting terms that stand between your readers and the actual description. This is especially true when it comes to the “is” + “ing” verb pair. Any time you use “is,” you’re telling the reader that the subject is in a state of being. Using an “ing” verb tells the audience the verb is in process. By using “is verbing,” you’re telling your audience that the subject is in the state of being of being in the process of doing something.

Take this example:

I was sprinting sprinted toward the doorway.

If the description is actually about a state of being—”they are  angry,” “are evil,” or “are dead”—then is it up. But don’t gunk up your verbs with unnecessary is, am, or was-ing.

“Started”

Any action a person takes is started, continued, and finished. All three of these can be expressed by the root form of the verb. For example, “I jumped.” The reader who stops in frustration, saying, “But when did the jump start? When did it finish?” has problems well beyond the scope of the content they’re reading.

If you’ve been doing yoga for six years, you could reasonably say, “I started doing yoga six years ago.” For you, yoga is an ongoing action with a concrete starting point. But when describing action in a story, there are few circumstances where “start” is effective.

Let’s take this case and look at the potential fixes:

He started screaming.

Is it a single scream? Use “He screamed.” Are you telling us his screams will be background noise for a while? Rather than clueing us in unnecessarily, show us the series of screams first-hand. Do you want to introduce a changed state, such as escalating from loud speaking into screaming? Show us the decibels, the gruffness of voice, the way the air feels to the person he’s screaming at, and the hot dryness in the screamer’s throat as his volume crescendos.

“That”

“That” is a useful word for adding clarity, but like Bibles on the bedstands of seedy motel rooms, the word’s presence is often out of place.

When “that” is employed to add a description, you can almost always move the description to before the term and make a more powerful image.

Ireland was nothing but flowing green hills that flowed green.

In many other cases, “that” can simply be dropped or replaced with a more descriptive term.

I was drunk the night that your father and I met.

Many other uses of “that,” such as “I wish I wasn’t that ugly”, can be enhanced with more descriptive language.

“Like”

I’m not just saying that, like, you shouldn’t, like, talk like a valley girl (though that too). Here’s the problem: “Like” is used to show uncertainty. And you. Should. Not. Be. Uncertain.

Be bold. When making a comparison, use force. Use metaphor over simile. Don’t let yourself cop out by coming up with a halfway description.

My eyes rested on the gun for a sliver of a moment. I snapped forward, grabbed it, and it was like the chill metal flowed from the gun into my veins.

One of the 36 articles by the infamously fantastic Chuck Palahniuk dives into the issue of like in great detail. It’s well worth checking out.


As always, Orwell’s final rule applies: “Break any of these rules before saying anything barbarous.” There are instances where each of these words fills a valuable role. However, especially among inexperienced writers, these words are frequently molested and almost always gum up the works.

Apply these lessons immediately and consistently to empower your words. Then, with practice, you will suddenly realize that you are starting to naturally trim the text in order to create prose that is very powerful.