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.

Beware of Commonly Misstated Phrases

Try to find all the misused words and expressions in this humorous piece of writing.

DON’T embarrass yourself by saying or writing commonly misused idioms such as the following ones. The incorrect phrase is stated first, followed by the correct one:

For all intensive purposes — For all intents and purposes

Statue of limitations — Statute of limitations

I could care less — I couldn’t care less

Jive with — Jibe with

Scotch free — Scot free

Hunger pains — Hunger pangs

Beckon call — Beck and call

Butt naked — Buck naked

Mute point — Moot point

Case and point — Case in point

The spitting image — The spit and image

On tender hooks — On tenterhooks

Hone in — Home in

One in the same — One and the same

Deep-seeded — Deep seated

By in large — By and large

Nip it in the butt — Nip it in the bud

You’ve got another thing coming — You’ve got another think coming

Extract revenge — Exact revenge

It’s a doggy-dog world — It’s a dog-eat-dog world.

Two peas in a pot — Two peas in a pod.

Right off the back — Right off the bat.

Peaked my interest — Piqued my interest

Wet your appetite — Whet your appetite

Piece of mind — Peace of mind

Wreck havoc — Wreak havoc

Tow the line — Toe the line

Pour over — Pore over

Tongue and cheek — Tongue in cheek

Nerve-wrecking — Nerve-wracking or nerve-racking

Escape goat — Scapegoat

Beckon call — Beck and call

After all is set and done — After all is said and done

Upmost desire — Utmost desire

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.

Grammar tip: “who” and “whom”

Deposit this statement into your memory bank:

Who is the subject, and whom is the object in a sentence.

The subject of a sentence is a noun or a noun substitute about which something is asserted or asked in the predicate (the predicate is the part of a sentence comprising what is said about the subject).

The object of a sentence is a noun or a noun substitute governed by a transitive verb, a nonfinite verb, or a preposition. A direct object is any noun or a noun substitute that answers the question What? or Whom? after a transitive verb. A direct object frequently receives or is in some way affected by the action of the verb. Example:

John hit the ball. (ball is the direct object of the verb hit)

Subject: Who hit the ball? John hit the ball.

Object: John hit the ball to Linda. Linda is the object of the verb hit.

I should define one more term: case. Case is the form of a noun or pronoun in a specific context that shows whether it functions as a subject, an object, or a possessive. We use the terms subjective case for the subject of a sentence and objective case for the object of a sentence.

The pronouns who and whoever are in the subjective case, meaning that they are used as the subject of a sentence. The pronouns whom and whomever are in the objective case, meaning that they are used as the object of the subject in a sentence. See direct object above.

Zzzzzzzzz . . . Right?

Wake up. There’s more.

To find the correct pronoun case in a sentence, you must determine whether the pronoun functions as a subject or an object. To do that, use these tests:

Test for who or whom in the subjective case

Example: I wondered (who, whom) would vote.

Test: Substitute he and him (or she and her): “He would vote” or “Him would vote.” Answer: He. Therefore, because he is subjective, who, which is also subjective, is correct: “I wondered who would vote.”

Test for who or whom in the objective case

Example: Volunteers go to senior citizen centers hoping to enroll people (who, whom) others have ignored. Test: Try using they and them at the end of the sentence: “Others have ignored they” or “Others have ignored them.” Answer: Them. Therefore, because them is objective, whom, which is also objective, is correct: “Volunteers go to senior citizen centers hoping to enroll people whom others have ignored.”

I hope all this makes sense to you so you can apply these rules in your writing.

One final point: Some grammatically correct sentences sound too fussy. If a sentence that says “We had a minister whom everyone seemed to like” sounds that way to you, then recast the sentence:

Everyone seemed to like the minister of our church.

This is fascinating stuff, isn’t it? Now you can amaze your friends by explaining the proper use of who and whom to them. I know they will thank you for that. Surely most of them have lost sleep by wrestling with the who/whom dilemma.

Paul Thayer
Thayer Literary Services
www.paulthayerbookeditor.com

P.S. — To reward you for reading all this gobbledygook, here’s a limerick that might amuse you:
A certain young man never knew
Just when to say whom and when who;
“The question of choosing,”
He said, “is confusing;
I wonder if which wouldn’t do.”
— Christopher Morley

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.

 


 

Writing tip: Avoid redundant expressions

A redundancy is an expression—usually a word pair—that says the same thing twice. One of the words can be omitted without losing the meaning. I typically delete many repetitive words when I edit a manuscript. Here is a list of common redundancies:

A

(absolutely) essential

(absolutely) necessary

(actual) facts

advance (forward)

(advance) planning

(advance) preview

(advance) reservations

(advance) warning

add (an additional)

add (up)

(added) bonus

(affirmative) yes

(aid and) abet

(all-time) record

alternative (choice)

A.M. (in the morning)

(and) etc.

(anonymous) stranger

(annual) anniversary

(armed) gunman

(artificial) prosthesis

ascend (up)

ask (the question)

assemble (together)

attach (together)

ATM (machine)

autobiography (of his or her own life)

B

bald(-headed)

balsa (wood)

(basic) fundamentals

(basic) necessities

best (ever) biography (of his—or her—life)

blend (together)

(boat) marina

bouquet (of flowers)

brief (in duration)

(brief) moment

(brief) summary

(burning) embers

C

cacophony (of sound)

cameo (appearance)

cancel (out)

(careful) scrutiny

cash (money)

cease (and desist)

circle (around)

circulate (around)

classify (into groups)

(close) proximity

(closed) fist

collaborate (together)

combine (together)

commute (back and forth)

compete (with each other)

(completely) annihilate

(completely) destroyed

(completely) eliminate

(completely) engulfed

(completely) filled

(completely) surround

(component) parts

confer (together)

connect (together)

connect (up)

confused (state)

consensus (of opinion)

(constantly) maintained

cooperate (together)

could (possibly)

crisis (situation)

curative (process)

(current) incumbent

(current) trend

D

depreciate (in value)

descend (down)

(desirable) benefits

(different) kinds

disappear (from sight)

drop (down)

during (the course of)

dwindle (down)

E

each (and every)

earlier (in time)

eliminate (altogether)

emergency (situation)

(empty) hole

empty (out)

(empty) space

enclosed (herein)

(end) result

enter (in)

(entirely) eliminate

equal (to one another)

eradicate (completely)

estimated at (about)

evolve (over time)

(exact) same

(exposed) opening

extradite (back)

F

(face) mask

fall (down)

(favorable) approval

(fellow) classmates

(fellow) colleague

few (in number)

filled (to capacity)

(final) conclusion

(final) end

(final) outcome

(final) ultimatum

(first and) foremost

(first) conceived

first (of all)

fly (through the air)

follow (after)

(foreign) imports

(former) graduate

(former) veteran

(free) gift

(from) whence

(frozen) ice

(frozen) tundra

full (to capacity)

(full) satisfaction

fuse (together)

(future) plans

(future) recurrence

G

gather (together)

(general) public

GOP (party)

GRE (exam)

green [or blue or whatever] (in color)

grow (in size)

H

had done (previously)

(harmful) injuries

(head) honcho

heat (up)

HIV (virus)

hoist (up)

(hollow) tube

hurry (up)

I

(illustrated) drawing

incredible (to believe)

indicted (on a charge)

input (into)

integrate (together)

integrate (with each other)

interdependent (on each other)

introduced (a new)

introduced (for the first time)

(ir)regardless

ISBN (number)

J

join (together)

(joint) collaboration

K

kneel (down)

(knowledgeable) experts

L

lag (behind)

later (time)

LCD (display)

lift (up)

(little) baby

(live) studio audience

(live) witness

(local) residents

look (ahead) to the future

look back (in retrospect)

M

made (out) of

(major) breakthrough

(major) feat

manually (by hand)

may (possibly)

meet (together)

meet (with each other)

(mental) telepathy

merge (together)

might (possibly)

minestrone (soup)

mix (together)

modern ______ (of today)

(mutual) cooperation

(mutually) interdependent

mutual respect (for each other)

N

(number-one) leader in ________

nape (of her neck)

(native) habitat

(natural) instinct

never (before)

(new) beginning

(new) construction

(new) innovation

(new) invention

(new) recruit

none (at all)

nostalgia (for the past)

(now) pending

O

off (of)

(old) adage

(old) cliche

(old) custom

(old) proverb

(open) trench

open (up)

(oral) conversation

(originally) created

output (out of)

(outside) in the yard

outside (of)

(over) exaggerate

over (with)

(overused) cliché

P

(pair of) twins

palm (of the hand)

(passing) fad

(past) experience

(past) history

(past) memories

(past) records

penetrate (into)

period (of time)

(personal) friend

(personal) opinion

pick (and choose)

PIN (number)

pizza (pie)

plan (ahead)

plan (in advance)

(Please) RSVP

plunge (down)

(polar) opposites

(positive) identification

postpone (until later)

pouring (down) rain

(pre)board (as an airplane)

(pre)heat

(pre)record

(private) industry

(present) incumbent

present (time)

previously listed (above)

proceed (ahead)

(proposed) plan

protest (against)

pursue (after)

R

raise (up)

RAM (memory)

reason is (because)

reason (why)

recur (again)

re-elect (for another term)

refer (back)

reflect (back)

(regular) routine

repeat (again)

reply (back)

retreat (back)

revert (back)

rise (up)

round (in shape)

S

(safe) haven

(safe) sanctuary

same (exact)

(sand) dune

scrutinize (in detail)

self-______ (yourself)

separated (apart from each other)

(serious) danger

share (together)

(sharp) point

shiny (in appearance)

shut (down)

(single) unit

skipped (over)

slow (speed)

small (size)

(small) speck

soft (in texture) [or (to the touch)]

sole (of the foot)

spell out (in detail)

spliced (together)

start (off) or (out)

(still) persists

(still) remains

(sudden) impulse

(sum) total

surrounded (on all sides)

T

tall (in height)

tall (in stature)

(temper) tantrum

ten (in number)

three a.m. (in the morning)

(three-way) love triangle

time (period)

(tiny) bit

(total) destruction

(true) facts

(truly) sincere

tuna (fish)

(twelve) noon or midnight

(two equal) halves

U

(ultimate) goal

undergraduate (student)

(underground) subway

(unexpected) emergency

(unexpected) surprise

(unintentional) mistake

(universal) panacea

(unnamed) anonymous

UPC (code)

(usual) custom

V

vacillate (back and forth)

(veiled) ambush

(very) pregnant

(very) unique

visible (to the eye)

W

(wall) mural

warn (in advance)

weather (conditions)

weather (situation)

whether (or not)

(white) snow


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 question: Should your novel have a prologue?

Should you write a prologue for your novel? Maybe yes, maybe no. To find the answer, let’s begin by defining the term:
Prologue
noun
• a separate introductory section of a literary or musical work: This idea is outlined in the prologue.
• an event or action that leads to another event or situation: Civil unrest in a few isolated villages became the prologue to widespread rebellion.

Sometimes I pick up a book and read the prologue and wonder why the author thought it was needed. I ask myself, Does it do anything that can’t be done in the first chapter? If the prologue is all backstory, shouldn’t that material be braided into the story as the plot and characters develop? Is the prologue intended only to hook the reader? If so, why wasn’t that done on page one of Chapter One, where the reader-baiting and -hooking should take place?

You may think I’m death on prologues, but I’m not. A prologue can be effective if it’s written well, with a clear view of its purpose, and if it includes significant facts that contribute to the reader’s understanding of what kind of novel this is and where the plot is heading. Furthermore, contrary to what some believe, I think a prologue can be used to pull readers into the story, to create a sense of place and time, to foreshadow events to follow, and to provide the voice and viewpoint of an important character.

Even so, I often find myself sighing with impatience when confronted with a prologue. Just get to the damn story already! I think. Show me a scene. I want to see someone doing something worth writing about. I want to hear people speak. I want setting. I want conflict. I want to know what kicks this story in the ass to get it moving.

The prologues of far too many self-published novels, especially, contain none of these things. They tell; they don’t show. The only thing they do well is extinguish any interest an intelligent reader has summoned in order to start reading the book in the first place.

That’s why I often urge new writers to deep-six their prologue. I’m pretty sure they haven’t given much thought to the craft of writing one, to its purposes and pitfalls. They just jump into the task of prologue-ing and fire away only because it seems like a good idea at the time and is an easy way to get started. All too often this results in a long-winded info dump of back story and character introduction written from the viewpoint of an omniscient narrator, that invisible godlike being in the sky who sees all and knows all, even when we’re in the shower (Yikes!). This kind of narrator is actually . . . Guess who? The writer.

I don’t know about you, but I find no pleasure in hanging out with a bossy, faceless narrator who’s bent on force-feeding me great globs of information that are too much to digest in one sitting before the story gets under way.

Note: Reading page after page of back story and background info about people you don’t know is not entertaining. It’s more like a chore, like trying to memorize a page of a phone book or, even worse, trying to read Ulysses.

I often tell my writers this: Readers won’t be very interested in learning about a character’s background until they’re interested in his or her foreground.

How to drive a literary agent to drink

Some people say that all literary agents hate prologues. Not true. But many of them do. Here’s what some of them say:

“I’m not a fan of prologues, preferring to find myself in the midst of a moving plot on page one rather than being kept outside of it, or eased into it.” — Michelle Andelman, Regal Literary

“Prologues are usually a lazy way to give backstory chunks to the reader that can be handled with more finesse throughout the story. Damn the prologue, full speed ahead!” — Laurie McLean, Foreward Literary

“Prologues often show that the writer doesn’t know where to start the story.” — Carly Watters, P.S. Literary Agency

“Almost all the agents I know completely skip the prologue and start with chapter one when reading sample pages.” — Kristen Nelson, Nelson Literary Agency

“Most agents hate prologues. Just make the first chapter relevant and well written.” — Andrea Brown, Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

“I’d say 99% of the submissions I receive with a prologue don’t need it. Most of the time they read (to me) like: Look at me! I can write an AMAZING scene! Oh, but sorry, you have to read 100 more pages to get to the story. — Natalie M. Lakosil, the Bradford Literary Agency.

In best-selling author Kristen Lamb’s blog (http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/), she says that “there are a lot more reasons to NOT use a prologue than there are to employ one.” She calls prologues a big “fish head” that, in many cases, should be “cut off and thrown away.” But she also acknowledges that “prologues, when done properly, can be excellent literary devices. Yet, with a clear reader propensity to skip them, then that might at least make us pause before we decide our novel must have one.”

She identifies “The 7 Deadly Sins of Prologues,” as follows:

• The prologue is really just a vehicle for a massive information dump.

• The prologue really has nothing to do with the main story.

• The prologue’s sole purpose is to “hook” the reader.

• The prologue is overly long.

• The prologue is written in a totally different style and voice that is never tied back into the main story.

• The prologue is condensed world-building (especially in science fiction).

• The prologue is there solely to “set the mood.”

As you can see, she’s one pro who thinks a prologue is no place for reader-hooking and mood-setting, while others think this is okay.

So when can you use a prologue? Ms. Lamb says:

• Prologues can be used to resolve a time gap with information critical to the story.

• Prologues can be used if there is a critical element in the back story relevant to the plot.

To all this I’d like to emphasize these points:

1. A prologue is not a side or back story. The best ones, IMHO, are a pivotal event that leads up to Chapter One.

2. Literary agents usually read only the first three to five pages, so if you have filled those pages with prologue material, many agents will reject (or set fire to) your manuscript without going any farther.

3. Readers tend to skip a prologue.

I have made my own admittedly unscientific survey of e-novels self-published on Amazon. After reading many samples from these books, I saw how popular prologues are with this legion of writers. I’d say that about 80 percent of these novels start with a prologue.

We probably shouldn’t rush to a judgment based on this observation, but I think it indicates something for us to ponder. Most of these prologues break one or more of the rules already mentioned. Some of the ones I’ve read should be labeled “Chapter One.” Almost all the others are info dumps of back story and biography used to set up the main story. Too many of them were so long that I couldn’t bear to read the whole thing. Will other readers feel the same way? I’m going with a yes.

So before you write a prologue, consider what I and others have said here. I also urge you to go to a library or a bookstore and analyze prologues in many published novels and see what works and what doesn’t and why. Take notes. Then reread the prologue you’ve written and decide whether to keep it or cut it off.

Like a fish’s head.

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.

 

Grammar: The subjunctive mood of verbs

Yes, verbs are moody little buggers, and one of their weirder moods is called the subjunctive. This form of the verb, which expresses an improbable condition, one contrary to fact, or a wish, command, or desire, is a booby trap for many writers. Its use in both spoken and written English is nearly extinct, but it survives in certain traditional phrases such as:

If I were you. . . . Wish you were here. . . . If I were a rich man. . . . Come what may. . . . Far be it from me. . . .

The condition contrary to fact is the construction that is the biggest bugaboo in the use of the subjunctive. Example:

If such a procedure as this were not used, many patients would not survive.

This example is correctly expressed. But many clauses introduced by if do not express a condition contrary to fact but merely a condition or contingency. In such cases, the subjunctive mood is incorrect. Clauses introduced by as if or as though, however, usually—repeat, usually—express an unreal condition (a condition contrary to fact). Therefore, you must use the subjunctive mood of the verb with them in most cases. Example:

She looked at me as if I were Vlad the Impaler.

Now look at this sentence:

If she were not on the scene, his chances would improve.

Is the subjunctive mood of the verb (were) correct in this case? Is the sentence expressing a condition contrary to fact or simply a contingency? It’s talking about a contingency—an event that may or may not happen. She may or may not be on the scene. So using the subjunctive mood is incorrect. The verb, therefore, should be was.

Now you can amaze your friends by explaining when to use was and when to use were.

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.