My guest host today is Paul Allen Leoncini. He is the author of the epic novel Conjuror, available at Barnes&Noble, Bordersbooks, Ingram books and http://www.PublishAmerica.com as well as bricks and mortars book stores. Leoncini writes, Once upon a time a dear Agent offered me some advice, and this is what she said:
Grammar Guide For Self-Editing or Groups by Kelly Mortimer (2/10/08)
A – Awkward Sentence Structure – Rearrange, rephrase, or try deleting unnecessary words.
Aa – Additive Adjunct – No comma before “too” when it’s the last word of a sentence, and “too” means also. Ex: “She graduated from high school too.” Use a comma when “too” appears elsewhere and still means also. Ex: “She, too, graduated from high school.”
Aw- A while vs. Awhile – Never follow a preposition with the word “awhile.” “Awhile” is an adverb that means “for a while.” Ex: “Stay awhile” means “Stay for a while.” A while” is a noun phrase that follows a preposition like “for” or “in.” Ex: “Stay for a while.”
B – Blond/Blonde – Blond is an adjective used to describe. Ex: “She has blond hair.” Blonde is a noun. Ex: “She’s a tall blonde.” (The “e” is rarely used when referring to men.)
Bc – Because – When possible delete “because” and form two sentences. Subordinate conjunctions can annoy readers if overused.
Bg – Began/Begin/Started – When does beginning become doing? Immediately! Ex: Correct: “He walked toward the door.” Incorrect: “He began to walk toward the door.” (There are exceptions.)
Bi – Backstory or Internal Thought – Don’t write long paragraphs of internal thought or backstory to “info dump” every detail of a character’s past. Break it up. Change to dialogue or action whenever possible. No backstory allowed in the first chapter (at least).
Bs – Be Specific – Forget it. Forget that. Forget this. Huh? Be more descriptive. Ex: Bad: “He handed it to her.” Better: “He handed her a drink.” Best: “He handed her a frosty mug of root beer.” You can use unspecific words in the second part of a sentence if the first part is specific. Ex: “She took off the necklace and put it away.”
C – Contractions – Without contractions, writing is clunky. Read both sentences aloud. Ex: “I have hurt my knee and cannot exercise, but do not let that stop you.” Better: “I’ve hurt my knee and can’t exercise, but don’t let that stop you.” Exception: a character’s speech pattern.
Cd – Character Description – When a character is in their POV, they shouldn’t describe themselves. Bring out features through another character’s eyes. Ex: “Amanda grabbed her brush and tugged it through her golden brown hair.” Correct: “Amanda grabbed her brush and tugged it through her hair.”
Cl – Colors – Instead of using an ordinary color, choose a more vivid word. Ideas on last page.
Cq – Colloquialism – Using two possessives to modify one noun. Ex: Her friend’s dad’s car is old. Correct: Her friend’s dad has an old car.
Cs – Comma in a Series – (1) Place a comma before the “and” in the last element in a series to prevent ambiguity. Ex: “I’m going to the park, the school, and the store.” (2) If the last element has a pair of words joined by “and,” the comma goes before the first “and,” but not the last. Ex: I’m going to the park, the school, and the store to buy eggs and milk.”
D – Dash – Shows interruption (in dialogue). Don’t overuse! No spaces before or after a dash.
D/t — Day / Time – Avoid starting paragraphs with the day/time. It’s telling! Exs: “The next morning…” (or) “Two hours later… ”
Dss – Delete Extra Space – One space after ending punctuation.
E – Ellipses – Shows hesitation, a pause, or omitted words. Don’t overuse! Spaces before and after mid-sentence ellipses. Regular punctuation for ellipses at the end of a sentence.
Ex – Exclamation Points – Use when a character shouts, or the mental equivalent! Use SPARINGLY! If not, the exclamation point loses its effect!!!!!
F – Farther vs. Further – “Farther” describes distance, literally. Ex: I can’t walk any farther. Use “Further” in a figurative sense. Ex: I don’t want to research the subject any further.
H – Hyphenate – (1) Hyphenate when modifying a noun. Ex: She has a five-year-old child. (or) She has a five-year-old. (child is implied) Incorrect: Her child is five-years-old. (2) Don’t hyphenate after a “ly” word. Ex: She walked into a brightly lit room.
I – Intensifier –Emphasizes the word it modifies. Use a stronger word instead of a weak one plus an intensifier. Ex: Monday turned frigid. Incorrect: Monday turned really cold. Other Examples: very, totally, quite, extremely, severely, etc. (There are exceptions.)
Ia – It and As – Avoid starting sentences with the words “it” or “as.”
Iu – Intended Use – Use words for their intended purpose. Ex: “She has pretty hair.” Incorrect: “She arrived pretty late.” (or) “She has a little dog.” Incorrect: “Her dog ate little.”
Iw – It was/wasn’t – Be specific on what “it” is, or if the sentence makes sense without, delete.
Lo – Locution – Delete phrases like “she wondered” by rephrasing into a question. Ex: She wondered why her sister always cut her hair. Correct: Why did her sister always cut her hair?
Lp- Long Paragraph – Break it up. Readers like to see some white space on a page.
Ls – Long Sentence – Break it up. If you have to pause to take a breath, the sentence is too long.
Ly – Use of “LY” Adverbs – These sneak emotions into attributes, or weaken a sentence. Ex: “You’re not nice,” she said angrily. Correct: “You’re despicable.” (There are exceptions.)
M – Media – Italics – Movies, TV shows, books, book-length poems, magazines, plays, radio shows, works of art, instrumentals, operas, and ships/boats (I know vessels aren’t media). Quotation Marks – TV episode titles, songs, stories, articles, poems, and photographs.
Mm – Misplaced Modifier – Placement of a word, phrase, or clause that modifies an unintended word, causing ambiguity. Ex: “Slim and beautiful, the crowd applauded for the new Miss America.” This reads “the crowd is slim and beautiful.” Correct: “The new Miss America was slim and beautiful, and the crowd applauded for her.”
Mr – Motivation/Reaction Problem – Putting the character’s reaction before what motivates him/her to react. Ex: She shivered with fright as footsteps sounded on the stairs. Correct: Footsteps sounded on the stairs and she shivered with fright. (or) Footsteps sounded on the stairs. She shivered with fright. Check sentences with “as” in the middle. Switch the sentence around, ditch the “as,” and add “and,” or make two sentences with the motivator first.
Np – New Paragraph – New speaker, new subject, or use a one-sentence paragraph to make the sentence more dramatic.
Nu – Negation Use – Phrasing your sentence in the negative. Ex: The park isn’t more crowded on a Sunday than a holiday. Change to positive by deleting “no, not, never, etc.” Correct: The park is as crowded on a Sunday as a holiday.
Op – Omniscient POV – Also called Author Intrusion. The author is talking to the reader. Ex: She prayed for her friends. If she could’ve predicted the future, she’d have prayed for herself.
P – Passive vs. Active Sentence Structure – Active structure is “A” does to “B.” Passive structure is “B” is done by “A,” or, the subject of the sentence is acted upon. Ex: Passive: “The soup was stirred by Jane.” Active: “Jane stirred the soup.” Watch for the word “was” before words ending in “ed.” Check: that, had, and forms of “to be” as well.
Pl – Pleonasm – Redundancy. A phrase or word that repeats itself. Ex: Twelve noon (noon), one a.m. in the morning (one a.m.), round in shape (round), I saw it with my own eyes, (I saw it)
Pov – Point of View Problem – (1) If you switch to another character’s POV, show the break with an extra space or start a new scene/chapter. (2) Your character can’t see certain things in their POV. Ex: “She turned her back on him and he frowned.” She can’t see a frown if she turns her back. (3) Your characters can’t see themselves. Ex: Her face turned bright red. Correct: “Heat rose to her cheeks.” (4) Avoid: he saw, she heard, he knew, etc., when in that character’s POV. We know who’s seeing, hearing, knowing, etc. Ex: She saw him moving across the room. Correct: He moved across the room.
Pp – Purple/Poetic Prose – A stylistic device. Flowery, poetic speech. Lengthy descriptions and/or too many metaphors. Stay away from this!
Pq – Punctuation for Quotes – For single and double quotes used for emphasis, both the period and the comma go inside the quotation marks, all other punctuation goes outside.
Pr – Progressive Past – Watch for “was” and “were” before words ending in “ing.” Ex: Progressive Past: “Jane was running.” Simple Past (usually preferred): “Jane ran.” Sentences require progressive past if something interrupts an action. “Jane was stirring the soup when the doorbell rang.”
Q – Qualifier – An unnecessary word that blurs your meaning and weakens your sentence. Something is, or it isn’t. Ex: “It was a bit cold outside.” Correct: “It was cold outside.” Other examples: rather, a little, a lot, seemed, only, slightly, just, almost, nearly, sort of, kind of, etc. Exceptions: a character’s speech pattern or speculation on what another character is thinking.
R -Repetition – Repeating the same words or phrases too often.
Rd – Redundancy – Telling us something again, even in a different way or with different words.
Rp – Reflexive Pronoun – Only use pronouns ending in “self,” when the pronoun refers back to the subject. Ex: “I hit myself.” Don’t use “own” in conjunction with a pronoun when referring back to the subject. Ex: “My own sister died.” Correct: “My sister died.”
Sa – Simultaneous Action – Common when a sentence starts with a word ending in “ing.” Having a character do something that’s physically impossible/doing two things at the same time. Ex: Pulling out of the driveway, he drove down the street. Correct: He pulled out of the driveway then drove down the street. (or) He pulled out of the driveway, then drove down the street.
Sd – Said – (1) One can’t: bark, growl, snap, chuckle, howl, grimace, roar, smile, or snarl, etc., a word. These are sounds or facial expressions. Use “said,” and eliminate “said” adverbs. Dialogue should carry the emotion, not an adverb shoring up “said.” (2) Don’t reverse to read, “said she.” Save that for the kiddy books. Ex: “See spot run,” said Jane.
Si – Split Infinitive – An infinitive is the form of the verb that comes after “to.” A split infinitive is when another word comes between “to” and the verb. Ex: Jane seems to always wear her hair that way. Better: Jane always seems to wear her hair that way. (Not a must rule.)
Sm – Simplify – (1) Use simple, normal, phrases/words. Ex: Buying new clothes improved Jane’s old wardrobe. Incorrect: Jane ameliorated her obsolescent attire, augmenting it with additional purchases. (2) Use as few words as possible to get your point across.
T – That – “That” is often a throwaway word. If the sentence makes sense without it, delete.
Tl – Telling – (1) Words like: after, as, when, during, until, before, with, and while at the beginning of a sentence is often telling and unnecessary. (2) Watch forms of “to be” and “felt,” as well. Ex: He felt angry. Correct: He clenched his fists so hard, his knuckles turned white.
Tmi – Too Much Information – (1) Don’t write long paragraphs with lengthy descriptions of scenes or rooms, etc. Break them up. (2) Don’t go into detail about what your characters’ actual positions are. This makes it harder to picture the scene. Ex: He held the man’s right arm with his left hand, and then kicked with his right foot to the man’s left side. Correct: He held the man’s arm, then kicked him in the side.
Tw – That vs. Which – Use “that” to introduce a restrictive (defining) relative clause. Identifies what/who is referred to. Ex: I want to buy a book that has large print. That has large print is the restrictive clause explaining what kind of book I want to buy. “Which” is used with non-restrictive (non-defining) clauses. Ex: The students complained about the textbook, which was hard to understand. The clause which was hard to understand is non-restrictive because it doesn’t point out which book the students complained about. (There are exceptions.)
Uw – Unnecessary Words and Phrases – Omit extra words and phrases. Write each sentence with as few words as possible. Phrase Offenders: the fact that, all of a sudden, at the very least, in spite of, if nothing else, etc. Ex: By the way, I just wondered if you think that this dress looks good on me. Correct: Does this dress look good on me? Word Offenders: that, perhaps, however, although, over, under, up, down, even, quite, rather, suddenly, etc. Ex: Suddenly, I thought that perhaps she should go over there and sit down up on top of the fence. Correct: She should sit on the fence.
W – Walked/Ran – Boring! Options: advanced, ambled, boogied, darted, dashed, drifted, glided, hastened, hiked, jogged, loped, lurched, marched, meandered, minced, moseyed, moved, paced, paraded, patrolled, plodded, pranced, raced, rambled, roamed, roved, rushed, sashayed, sauntered, scampered, schlepped, scurried, scuttled, shuffled, sidled, slogged, slinked, sprinted, staggered, stepped, strode, strolled, strutted, swaggered, tip-toed, toddled, traipsed, tramped, traveled, tread, trooped, trudged, waddled, wandered.
Color Options: If a date follows the color, the word wasn’t in use before that date.
Black: onyx, anthracite, inky, black pearl, blue-black, coal, jet, ebony, obsidian, raven, soot/sooty, midnight, shadow, pitch, sable, tar, licorice
Blue: azure (1300), periwinkle, wedgewood, delft, neon, electric, cornflower, turquoise (1350), royal, powder, cobalt (1683), teal, navy, sky, robin’s egg, baby, peacock, lapis, indigo (1555), steel, sapphire (1200), federal, aquamarine, aqua, ultra marine, midnight, blue-green, blue-gray, denim, cadet, cerulean, ocean
Brown/Beige: earth, nutmeg (1400), cinnamon (1300), chocolate (1604), cocoa (1788), tan, chestnut (1300), bay, tawny, roan, mahogany (1660), pecan, rosewood, maple, taupe, coffee, toffee, cafe au lait, mocha, tortoise shell, ginger, walnut (1100), brunette, espresso, ecru, mushroom, fawn, buckskin, nut brown, umber, saddle, raisin, khaki, drab, bronze, copper, tanned, foxy, sandy almond (1300), oatmeal, tumbleweed, sienna, sepia
Gray/Grey: smoky, pearl, charcoal, ash, silvery, dove, gunmetal, steel, sooty, hoary (no wisecracks!), chrome
Green: jade (1585), emerald, malachite, kelly, leaf, moss (1880), celadon (grayish yellow-green-1768), seafoam, hunter, lime (1650), forest (1800), olive, pistachio, grass, pea, mist, chartreuse, verdant, celery, mint, apple, hazel, green-blue, shamrock, avocado, spring, asparagus, pine, seaweed
Orange: apricot, rust(y), peach, tangerine, persimmon, orange-red, shrimp, salmon, terra cotta, auburn, burnt orange, mandarin, copper, nectarine
Pink: petal, neon, blush, carnation, rubescent (blushing-1725), hot, electric
Purple: amethyst, violet, lavender, heliotrope (reddish-lavender), mauve, plum, wood violet (pale purple), lilac, orchid, fuchsia, tyrian (1586), grape, wisteria, royal
Red: ruby, poppy, scarlet, garnet, red-amber, rose, dusky rose, crimson, cinnabar (bright red), wine, claret, cerise (deep red), russet, burgundy, henna, ox-blood, carmine (strong or vivid red), apple, cherry, tomato, red-orange, brick, cardinal, rubicund (ruddy), vermillion, cochineal (vivid), maroon, strawberry, raspberry, blood, candy apple, beet, currant, titian (reddish-brown), lobster, fire engine, coral (reddish-yellow), flame, cranberry
White/Off–White: milky, quartz, white jade, moonstone, ivory, creamy, snow, pearl, alabaster, opal, magnolia, vanilla, chalky, oyster, marble, bone, cadmium (1822- whitish-blue metallic), eggshell, parchment, lily, porcelain, bleached linen, buff
Yellow: fool’s gold, gold(en), goldenrod, blond, ash blond, platinum, burnished, brassy, amber, palomino, honey, primrose (pale), daffodil (1548), jonquil (1664), butter, buttercup (1777), lemon (1400), dun, tawny, flaxen, sandy, straw, hay, citron (pale), canary (1584), topaz, ochre, sulfur (greenish tint), mustard, butterscotch, yellow-green, dandelion
August 25, 2008 at 6:12 pm
Thank you for having me Pat.
Warmest Regards P.A.L.
August 25, 2008 at 6:15 pm
Thank you for sharing this incredible guide! Good luck with your book.
August 25, 2008 at 6:21 pm
This was (will be!) really useful! I hope you don’t mind me just dropping in, but just reading through this I’m going *eek* at my own problems.
Thank you very much for posting this!
August 25, 2008 at 6:35 pm
Niarisu: Stop by any time. Leoncini shared this post so we can all improve!
August 30, 2008 at 1:04 am
HA! Had to stop by and say hi. “HI!”
December 9, 2010 at 9:10 am
[…] Grammar Guide for Self-Editing — Bertram’s Blog guest host, Paul Allen Leoncini, offers grammar advice he received from agent Kelly Mortimer. The list includes common mistakes (a while vs. awhile) and a list of synonyms for commonly overused adjectives. […]
December 13, 2010 at 12:26 pm
An excellent summary…we’re all guilty backsliders, so a fresh reminder is welcome.
June 15, 2011 at 9:20 pm
Great summary, but is there something that will tell me a little more?
June 15, 2011 at 9:43 pm
Dawn, The book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown and Dave King is a comprehensive guide to editing, though it’s more for editing the story line rather than just grammar. You can also google “grammar guide for writers.” There are many good grammar guides on the market.
June 7, 2013 at 2:50 pm
[…] Grammar Guide for Self-Editing Self-Editing — The List From Hell How to Write a Query Letter What Works When It Comes to Book Promotion? […]