Fumblerules of Writing

Much of this humorous list was originally compiled by George L. Trigg, et al.

1. Make sure each pronoun agrees with their antecedent.

2. Just between you and I, the case of pronouns is important.

3. Watch out for irregular verbs that have crope into English.

4. Verbs has to agree in number with their subjects.

5. Don’t use no double negatives.

6. And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction.

7. The passive voice is to be ignored.

8. Never use a big word when substituting a diminutive one would suffice.

9. Kill all exclamation points!!!

10. Use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.

11. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.

12. Being bad grammar, a writer should not use dangling modifiers.

13. Join clauses good like a conjunction should.

14. A writer must not shift your point of view.

15. About sentence fragments.

16. One-word sentences? Eliminate.

17. Don’t use run-on sentences you have to punctuate them.

18. In letters essays and reports use commas to separate items in a series.

19. Don’t use commas, that are not necessary.

20. Also, always avoid annoying alliteration.

21. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.

22. Parenthetical words however should be enclosed in commas. Also, parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are (usually) unnecessary.

23. Its important to use apostrophes right in everybodys writing.

24. If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: Resist hyperbole; not one writer in a million can use it correctly. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.

25. Understatement is always the absolute best way to put forth earth-shaking ideas.

26. Avoid ampersands & abbreviations, etc.

27. Who needs rhetorical questions?

28. Avoid “buzz-words.” Such integrated transitional scenarios complicate simplistic matters.

29. One should NEVER generalize.

30. Be more or less specific.

31. Puns are for children, not groan readers.

32. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.

33. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.

34. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.

35. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.”

36. In the case of a report, check to see that, jargonwise, it’s A-OK.

37. As far as incomplete constructions, they are wrong.

38. About repetition, the repetition of a word might be real effective repetition—take, for instance the repetition of the name Abraham Lincoln.

39. Also too, never, ever use repetitive redundancies.

40. In my opinion, I think that an author when he is writing should definitely not get into the habit of making use of too many unnecessary words that he does not really need in order to put his message across.

41. Use parallel construction not only to be concise but also clarify.

42. It behooves us all to avoid archaic expressions.

43. Mixed metaphors are a pain in the neck and ought to be weeded out. Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.

44. Consult the dictionery to avoid mispelings.

45. To ignorantly split an infinitive is a practice to religiously avoid.

46. Avoid clichés like the plague. (They’re old hat.)

47. Eschew obfuscation!

Paul Thayer
Thayer Literary Services
paulthayerbookeditor.com

Paul Thayer is a full-time professional book editor with more than 35 years of experience. During that time he worked in the trenches of the real world of writers, editors, and publishers. He uses his extensive knowledge to help writers who still have a lot to learn, offering them critiques and line editing of their work.

 

 

How long should a scene be?

One of my clients asked me this question. This may seem like a dumb question, but it’s worth discussing so as to help writers who are new to the game. Short answer: The god of fiction has not prescribed the length of a scene. A scene should be as long as it needs to be in order to accomplish its goal. Each scene should be planned before the writing begins. The plan must begin with establishing its purpose. The scene should incorporate at least one of these purposes:
• Move the main plot line ahead
• Present necessary information
• Introduce or develop characters
• Create atmosphere or develop setting
• Introduce or worsen a problem
• Solve a problem
• Set up a later scene.
In addition, you must answer the following questions before you begin writing a scene:
• Who will be the viewpoint character?
• What other characters will be in this scene?
• Where will this scene take place?
• When will it take place?
• What is the primary action that will occur in the scene?
• What will generate conflict?
When you have determined the purpose of the scene, answered the questions above, and fulfilled its purpose, the scene will find its natural length.

Paul Thayer
Thayer Literary Services
Paulthayerbookeditor.com

Paul Thayer is a full-time professional book editor with more than 35 years of experience. During that time he worked in the trenches of the real world of writers, editors, and publishers. He uses his extensive knowledge to help writers who still have a lot to learn, offering them critiques and line editing of their work.

Grammatical terms walk into a bar

A dangling participle walked into a bar. Enjoying a cocktail and chatting with the bartender, the evening passed pleasantly.

A bar was walked into by the passive voice.

An oxymoron walked into a bar, and the silence was deafening.

Two quotation marks walk into a “bar.”

A malapropism walked into a bar, looking for all intensive purposes like a wolf in cheap clothing, muttering epitaphs, and casting dispersions on his magnificent other, who takes him for granite.

Hyperbole totally rips into this insane bar and absolutely destroys everything.

A question mark walked into a bar?

A non sequitur walked into a bar. In a strong wind, even turkeys can fly.

Papyrus and Comic Sans walked into a bar. The bartender says, Get out! We don’t serve your type.

A mixed metaphor walked into a bar, seeing the handwriting on the wall but hoping to nip it in the bud.

A comma splice walked into a bar, it has a drink and then leaves.

Three intransitive verbs walked into a bar. They sit. They converse. They depart.

A synonym strolls into a tavern.

At the end of the day, a cliché walked into a bar, fresh as a daisy, cute as a button, and sharp as a tack.

A run-on sentence walked into a bar it starts flirting with a cute little sentence fragment.

Falling slowly, softly falling, the chiasmus collapsed onto the bar floor.

A figure of speech literally walked into a bar and ended up getting figuratively hammered.

An allusion walked into a bar, despite the fact that alcohol was its Achilles heel.

The past, present, and future walked into a bar. It was tense.

A dyslexic walked into a bra.

A verb walked into a bar, sees a beautiful noun, and suggests they conjugate. The noun declines.

An Oxford comma walked into a bar, where it spent the evening watching the television, getting drunk and smoking cigars.

A simile walked into a bar, as parched as a desert.

A gerund and an infinitive walked into a bar, drinking to forget.

A hyphenated word and a non-hyphenated word walked into a bar, and the bartender nearly choked on the irony.

If you don’t see the humor in some of these sentences, take two aspirin and call me in the morning.

Paul Thayer
Thayer Literary Services
paulthayerbookeditor.com

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Paul Thayer is a full-time professional book editor with more than 35 years of experience. During that time he worked in the trenches of the real world of writers, editors, and publishers. He uses his extensive knowledge to help writers who still have a lot to learn, offering them critiques and line editing of their work.

 

 

The horror of compound words

NINETY percent of all spelling problems, they say, concern compound words. Should it be selfseeking or self-seeking? Is the word spelled taxpayer, tax-payer, or tax payer? In other words, is the compound closed, hyphenated, or open? Who knows? Not many of us. That’s why we all need a good unabridged dictionary and The Chicago Manual of Style. Here are a couple of compound words problems I’ve found in the manuscripts I’ve edited:

Many words that end with -like are written as one word, such as trancelike. Words using the suffix -like are generally closed unless they end with l or ll (sail-like, ball-like), contain three or more syllables (basilica-like), are compound words (vacuum-bottle-like), or are proper nouns or other words that are difficult to read (Whitman-like). One exception, though, is Christlike. Also beware of words that begin with co-. Such compounds are usually written as one word, as in coworker. In addition, no hyphen is needed when you combine an adverb with another word. An adverb modifies verbs, adjectives, other adverbs, and even complete sentences. The hyphen should be removed from a term such as heavily-guarded (The heavily guarded building . . .).

Here’s a handy guide that will help you with compound words: http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/16/images/ch07_tab01.pdf

Paul Thayer
Thayer Literary Services
paulthayerbookeditor.com


Paul Thayer is a full-time professional book editor with more than 35 years of experience. During that time he worked in the trenches of the real world of writers, editors, and publishers. He uses his extensive knowledge to help writers who still have a lot to learn, offering them critiques and line editing of their work.

Did you like this post? If so, please click Like and share it.

Fiction writing: What’s the Rush?

MOST of us who are, shall we say, “older” folks grouse about the shortcomings of the younger generation, one accusation being that they demand instant gratification. I think that is the pot calling the kettle black. We all harbor that sin. No better example can be found than writers who have completed their first book. Once they consider their book “finished,” they start chomping at the bit to get their baby “out there.” Many writers saddle themselves with a self-imposed deadline in order to make that happen. Why? Isn’t there enough stress in life already?

Don’t allow your excitement and your impatience to get your book published before it’s ready for prime time. No matter how many times you’ve gone back through your manuscript and how many other people read it, what you have written is a first draft. As such, it should be professionally edited and rewritten at least once. If you don’t do this, you are setting yourself up for a heavy dose of disappointment and embarrassment when readers trash your work with one- and two-star reviews.

Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” He claims to have rewritten A Farewell to Arms “at least fifty times.” Amy Tan labored through more than twenty rewrites of what eventually became The Joy Luck Club. Abraham Lincoln is said to have revised the Gettysburg Address at least five times before he thought it was ready to be shared.

You must try with all your might to delay gratification. Don’t rush the editorial process. Be patient. Be professional. You’ve devoted considerable time and effort to your book. Rushing the process will almost always prove harmful in the long run.

Paul Thayer
Thayer Literary Services
www.paulthayerbookeditor.com


Paul Thayer is a full-time professional book editor with more than 35 years of experience. During that time he worked in the trenches of the real world of writers, editors, and publishers. He uses his extensive knowledge to help writers who still have a lot to learn, offering them critiques and line editing of their work.

Did you like this post? If so, please click Like and share it.

Should you join a writers’ group?

SHOULD you join a writing group? Maybe, or maybe not. Such groups might give you the kind of support you need; however, despite all its good intentions, a writing group may do you more harm than good. Why? For a number of reasons, including:

• Inexperienced writers are not the best people to critique the work of other inexperienced writers.

• Group members don’t always speak the truth, because they don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings.

• Group members usually don’t want to hear the truth, because criticism hurts too much. They want the group to praise their writing so they can enjoy the fleeting high of affirmation—something we all crave for what we do and say.

At its worst, a writing group can cause deep self-doubt, crippling frustration, and sometimes years of wasted effort.

Let’s expand on those points.

Inexperienced writers are not the best people to judge the work of other inexperienced writers

Why would you think that being in a room with other people who are also struggling with the same writing problems you are and who have little or no experience with that struggle would be a good way to improve your work? Yes, you might get camaraderie and a sense of community, identity, and purpose, which is fine, but the odds of getting specific, useful help with your writing are low.

Aspiring writers who are not seasoned enough to assess problems with a story often get it wrong, or get it only partially right, or demand specific remedies by using a kind of unconscious group-think approach of what they like or don’t like. That’s not helpful. What others like or dislike is a subjective response that comes without any assistance with how to move forward. You might get the “It’s not working” feedback but not the education you need to fix your problem—and certainly not the editorial understanding you need to prevent it from happening again. People may offer ideas for how they would fix things or how they see your story or what they would do, but this is a sure path to crushing fragile new projects and wavering confidence.

No one tells the truth, and no one really wants to hear it

Most writing groups tiptoe around glaring weaknesses in the work being shared and sometimes tell outright lies about it because they don’t want to hurt people’s feelings. All the writer hears is praise or vague criticism that isn’t actionable, so novice novelists assume that what they are writing is solid (if not awesome) and plow on, creating fundamentally flawed work. Developing writers must find a way to welcome criticism, even harsh criticism, but writer’s groups tend not to foster this ability. As a result, no one learns new things, no one grows, and they become deluded about their work, believing it to be better than it is.

Some fixes for a flawed group dynamic

Tell the truth. If something is not working—if it has a fatal flaw, if it’s ill-conceived, if it has an underlying problem with literary conventions—say so, being as specific as possible. Don’t hold back for the sake of being nice. Nice could condemn a writer to years of writing in the wrong ways. A consensus regarding telling the truth should be one of the ground rules when a writing group is established.

Be open to criticism. If you get deep criticism of something you have written, consider that you might need to deep-six the book project and go back to the drawing board. Allow that reality a place at the table. New writers often say they know something is wrong with their novel, but they can’t put their finger on the problem. A writing group might be able to help them find the answer.

Talk about the failure. Discuss the doubt and the agony of writing a novel. Let the pain be part of the mix, because creating something out of nothing is not easy. It’s highly emotional work. Writers need support, and they need a safe place where they can fail. Let your writing group be a place where you can learn the craft and provide a valuable service to others.

Also see:
How to Find the Right Critique Group or Partner for You https://www.janefriedman.com/find-the-right-critique-group/

Paul Thayer
Thayer Literary Services
paulthayerbookeditor.com


Paul Thayer is a full-time professional book editor with more than 35 years of experience. During that time he worked in the trenches of the real world of writers, editors, and publishers. He uses his extensive knowledge to help writers who still have a lot to learn, offering them critiques and line editing of their work.

Did you like this post? If so, please click Like and share it.

 

The top 25 grammatical terms you should know

1. ACTIVE VOICE

Active voice is a type of sentence or clause in which the subject performs or causes the action expressed by the verb. Contrast with Passive Voice below. Example: “A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.” (Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, 1991)

2. ADJECTIVE

An adjective is the part of speech (or word class) that modifies a noun or a pronoun. Example: “Send this pestilent, traitorous, cow-hearted, yeasty codpiece to the brig.” (Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, 2007)

3. ADVERB

An adverb is the part of speech that modifies a verb, adjective, or other adverb. Example: “There I was, standing there in the church, and for the first time in my whole life I realized I totally and utterly loved one person.” (Charles to Carrie in Four Weddings and a Funeral, 1994)

4. CLAUSE

A clause is a group of words that contains a subject and a predicate. A clause may be either a sentence (independent clause) or a sentence-like construction included within another sentence (that is, a dependent clause). Example: “Don’t ever argue with the big dog [independent clause], because the big dog is always right [dependent clause].” (Deputy Marshal Samuel Gerard in The Fugitive, 1993)

5. COMPLEX SENTENCE

A complex sentence is a sentence that contains at least one independent clause and one dependent clause. Example: “Don’t ever argue with the big dog [independent clause], because the big dog is always right [dependent clause].” (Deputy Marshal Samuel Gerard in The Fugitive, 1993)

6. COMPOUND SENTENCE

A compound sentence is a sentence that contains at least two independent clauses, often joined by a conjunction. Example: “I can’t compete with you physically [independent clause], and you’re no match for my brains [independent clause].” (Vizzini in The Princess Bride, 1987)

7. CONJUNCTION

A conjunction is a word that connects sentences, phrases or clauses. Example:  “I can’t compete with you physically, and you’re no match for my brains.” (Vizzini in The Princess Bride, 1987). Common conjunctions include and, but, for, nor, or, so and yet.

8. DECLARATIVE SENTENCE

A declarative sentence is a sentence that makes a statement. Example: “A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.” (Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, 1991)

9. DEPENDENT CLAUSE

A dependent clause is a group of words that begins with a relative pronoun or a subordinating conjunction. A dependent clause has both a subject and a verb but (unlike an independent clause) cannot stand alone as a sentence. Also known as a subordinate clause. Example: “Don’t ever argue with the big dog [independent clause], because the big dog is always right [dependent clause].” (Deputy Marshal Samuel Gerard in The Fugitive, 1993)

10. DIRECT OBJECT

A direct object is a noun or pronoun that receives the action of a transitive verb. Example: “I had to fight my daddy. I had to fight my uncles. I had to fight my brothers.” (Sophia in The Color Purple, 1985)

11. EXCLAMATORY SENTENCE

An exclamatory sentence is a sentence that expresses strong feelings by making an exclamation. Example: “God! Look at that thing! You would’ve gone straight to the bottom!” (Jack Dawson looking at Rose’s ring in Titanic, 1997)

12. IMPERATIVE SENTENCE

An imperative sentence is a sentence that gives advice or instructions or that expresses a request or a command. Example: “Send this pestilent, traitorous, cow-hearted, yeasty codpiece to the brig.” (Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, 2007)

13. INDEPENDENT CLAUSE

An independent clause is a group of words made up of a subject and a predicate. An independent clause (unlike a dependent clause) can stand alone as a sentence. Also known as a main clause. Example: “Don’t ever argue with the big dog [independent clause], because the big dog is always right [dependent clause].” (Deputy Marshal Samuel Gerard in The Fugitive, 1993)

14. INDIRECT OBJECT

An indirect object is really a prepositional phrase in which the preposition to or for is not stated but understood. It tells to whom or for whom something is done. The indirect object always comes between the verb and the direct object. Example:  “The doctor sent me (indirect object) a bill (direct object) for his services.

15. INTERROGATIVE SENTENCE

An interrogative sentence is a sentence that asks a question. Example: “What is the name of the Lone Ranger’s nephew’s horse?” (Mr. Parker in A Christmas Story, 1983)

16. NOUN

A noun is the part of speech that is used to name a person, place, thing, quality, or action and can function as the subject or object of a verb, the object of a preposition, or an appositive. Example: “Waiter, there is too much pepper on my paprikas.” (Harry Burns in When Harry Met Sally, 1989)

17. PASSIVE VOICE

Passive voice is a type of sentence or clause in which the subject receives the action of the verb. Contrast with Active Voice. Example: The jewelry was stolen by burglars. In the active voice this sentence would read: Burglars stole the jewelry.

18. PREDICATE

A predicate is one of the two main parts of a sentence or clause that modifies the subject and includes the verb, objects, or phrases governed by the verb. It is everything that is not the subject. Example: The man from the shop is a crook .

19. PREPOSITIONAL PHRASE

A phrase that begins with a preposition and ends in a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase. Example: “He is from Russia.From Russia is a prepositional phrase. Common prepositions include about, below, off, toward, above, for, to, on, under, across, from, onto, after, in, out, between, by, at, around, and before.

20. PRONOUN

A pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun. Example: “A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.” (Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, 1991)

21. SENTENCE

A sentence is most commonly a group of words that expresses a complete idea. Conventionally, a sentence includes a subject and a verb. It begins with a capital letter and concludes with a mark of end punctuation. Example: “I don’t ever remember feeling this awake.” (Thelma Dickinson in Thelma and Louise, 1991)

22. SIMPLE SENTENCE

A simple sentence is a sentence with only one independent clause (also known as a main clause). Example: “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.” (Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, 1991)

23. SUBJECT

The subject of a sentence is the person, place, thing, or idea that is doing or being something. You can find the subject of a sentence if you can find the verb. Ask the question, “Who or what “verbs” or “verbed”?” and the answer to that question is the subject. Example: Jack threw the ball.

24. TENSE

Tense is the time of a verb’s action or state of being, such as past, present, and future. Example: “Years ago, you served [past tense] my father in the Clone Wars; now he begs [present tense] you to help him in his struggle against the Empire.” (Princess Leia to General Kenobi in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, 1977)

25. VERB

A verb is the part of speech that describes an action or occurrence or indicates a state of being. Example: “Send this pestilent, traitorous, cow-hearted, yeasty codpiece to the brig.” (Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, 2007.)

Paul Thayer
Thayer Literary Services
paulthayerbookeditor.com


Paul Thayer is a full-time professional book editor with more than 35 years of experience. During that time he worked in the trenches of the real world of writers, editors, and publishers. He uses his extensive knowledge to help writers who still have a lot to learn, offering them critiques and line editing of their work.

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