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Techniques: Grammar and Punctuation
by Sandy Tritt
The greatest novel in the history of the universe will
never reach publication if the author does not have a decent command of
the English language. If your grammar needs a brush up, consider taking a
grammar course at your local college, or at least invest in a good grammar
text and study it. Most of the manuscripts I see have decent grammar.
However, there are still some common mistakes that I see too often. Here
are some solutions:
Maintain tense. Changing from past tense to present
tense within a scene is (almost) never acceptable.
Check spelling. With all the spell check features
available, there is no excuse for misspelling words.
Don’t always trust spell check. Many spell check
editors remove hyphens between compound adjectives that precede a noun,
such as "well-known writer." Also be careful not to automatically accept
the suggested alternative spelling, and be sure to proof your work for
the use of the correct word.
Spell out state names, "okay," units of measure,
people’s names, months, and days of the week. It is okay to abbreviate
titles that come before or after proper names (Mrs. Smith, Dr. John Doe,
MD), BC and AD, initials of famous people (JFK, LBJ), corporations best
known by their initials (TCI, IBM), organizations (YMCA, FBI), and
universities (WVU, UCLA). It is also okay to use other acronyms, as long
as they are generally understood or as long as the first time they are
used the full name is included in parentheses afterwards.
Punctuation goes inside quotation marks. "Learning the
correct grammar," Sandy said, "can be interesting."
Use double quotation marks for dialogue. When it is
necessary to make a quote within dialogue, use single quotation marks.
"Sandy said, ‘Watch using single quotes.’"
Keep your sentences parallel in construction. For
example: "Johnny brought his mother’s diary, handkerchief, and his
father’s wallet for show and tell." Was the handkerchief his mother’s or
I also see certain words misused with some frequency.
Lay/Lie. Definitely the most
common error I run into. And no wonder. In present tense, lay
means to cause to lie down or to place. It requires an object. Example:
"He laid his hat next to his gloves," where laid (past
tense of "lay") is the verb and his hat is the object. Lie
means to be or to place oneself in a reclining position. Example: "He
lies on the bed pretending to sleep." There is no object, nothing
that further explains what or who lies, because the verb lie modifies
the subject of the sentence (in this case, he). But it is past tense
that trips up 80% of the writers I’ve worked with. The past tense of
lay is laid. No sweat. BUT—the past tense of lie is
lay. Ugh! (Any wonder we get confused?) Examples:
Present tense: She lays the book on the table.
Past tense: She laid the book on the table.
Present tense: She lies on the sofa and enjoys
Past tense: She lay on the sofa and enjoyed the
Alright is no longer considered an acceptable word. All right
is the only correct spelling.
Then/Than. Then means
a time or accordingly. Than is a comparison.
is usually a verb meaning "to influence." Effect is a noun,
meaning "result." Drinking does not affect his personality. If
fact, it seems to have no effect at all.
Conscience is a noun meaning having a sense of right and wrong.
Conscious is an adjective meaning to be aware of.
refers to actual, physical distance. Further refers to a thought
or idea. "It is farther to Nancy’s house than we thought." "The
further we go in the discussion, the more apparent it becomes
that the parents are always right."
Each other/One another.
Each other is used when only two people are involved. One another
is used when more than two people are involved. "Jane and Michael looked
at each other and sighed." "The Holzen triplets hugged one
Have/ Of. Use have,
not of, after helping verbs such as could, would, should, may and
might. I should have (not of) known that. I think this
confusion occurs because of the pronunciation of the contracted have:
‘ve. So, our example sentence could have been written: I should’ve
If your grammar exceeds the seventh grade level, you
make take literary license and "adjust" the grammar as you see fit as long
as it serves an artistic purpose. Such as using sentence fragments like
this one for emphasis. Or starting sentences with conjunctions (like this
one). However, if it doesn’t serve a purpose, use correct grammar so your
reader (and publisher!) will realize that you do understand the proper way
of doing it.
There are many websites devoted to grammar and/or
spelling, so don’t hesitate to scan the Net for help if you need it.
Leave only one space after all punctuation marks,
including the period. The exceptions to this are hyphens and dashes, which
have no spaces before or after.
DATE AND TIME
Punctuate dates like this:
September 1, 2002
Punctuate time like this:
spell out the number when in a body of text: five
use figures when using a.m. and p.m.: 5 a.m. (use
lowercase characters and put periods after each letter of a.m. and p.m.)
Rarely do I see the ellipsis mark used correctly.
First, it is formed by using three periods, separated by spaces ( . . . ).
Not five periods, not two periods, but three periods, each with a space
before and a space after. If an ellipsis mark occurs at the end of a
sentence, it may include a fourth period, a question mark or an
exclamation mark to show the end of a sentence. The main function of an
ellipsis mark is to show omission of material within quoted matter. For
"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want . . . Yea,
though I walk through the valley of death . . . ."
Novice writers sometimes use ellipsis marks to hold
their reader’s attention. For example, ending a scene like this: "And then
she heard a noise . . ."
This is generally frowned upon in the literary
community, especially when it is overdone.
Ellipsis marks are not used to show an unfinished
sentence, a pause within a sentence, or to set off a phrase. Please repeat
that: ellipsis marks ARE NOT USED to show an unfinished sentence, a
pause within a sentence, or to set off a phrase. These are done by the
The dash also tends to be abused and misused. First
of all, a dash is formed by using two hyphens without any spaces before,
between or after the hyphens. Many word processing programs will
automatically change two side-by-side hyphens to an em-dash. Note: the
em-dash (—) is actually preferable to the double hyphens (--). Second, the
dash punctuates sentences, not words. When combining two words to form a
single word (as in one-half or well-dressed), use a hyphen. When looking
for something stronger than a comma to punctuate a sentence with, use a
A dash can indicate a sudden break or a change in
continuity. Example: "I—uh—I just don’t know."—or—"I don’t want to ever
see you—what is that on your shirt?"
A set of dashes can set aside a non-essential phrase
within a sentence. Non-essential means that the sentence will still be a
sentence without the phrase. Example: "Just as I was about to sit—and I
do mean just—I saw the spider." When used to set aside a phrase,
both a beginning and an ending dash must be used (do not start the
offset with a dash and end it with a comma).
A set of dashes may be used to set apart an
explanatory phrase, such as: "I love reading novels—fat, juicy,
long-winded novels—on my summer vacation."—or—"We need to get a first
aid kit—bandages, tape, elastic bandages—for the cheerleading squad."
A dash indicates an unfinished sentence: "I hope that
isn’t a snake—"
The comma appears to be a harmless little fellow, but
don’t let appearances deceive you. Sure, the little guy never shouts,
never declares, never questions, never even finishes a sentence, for that
matter, but that doesn’t mean he holds no power. In fact, he is the
hardest working of all the punctuation marks, the only one often appearing
more than once in a single sentence. He holds the power to change the
meaning of a sentence and to disrupt the flow of prose. Therefore, isn’t
it time to give the little guy his due and quit misunderstanding him?
Here’s his M.O. –
Use a comma to separate the clauses of a compound
sentence connected by a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, nor,
for, so and yet). The comma is placed before the coordinating
conjunction, not after. Examples:
The students ate spaghetti for dinner, but no one
cleaned his plate.
I gave three books to John, and John gave them to
However, do not use a comma before and, but, or
and nor when they link pairs of words, phrases or elements other than main
The students ate spaghetti for dinner and cake for
I gave three books to John and four to Nancy.
The trick here is to recognize if the conjunction
separates a main clause (or major thought), or if it simply links pairs of
words or phrases. Also, the comma may be omitted in short compound
sentences when the connection between the clauses is close, such as:
Justin stood in the corner and he watched.
If the sentence is clearly understandable without the
comma, it is probably okay to omit it.
The comma separates two or more adjectives modifying
the same noun if and could be used between them without changing
the meaning. Example:
Janine pushed her long, straight hair out of her eyes.
However, do not use a comma between unequal adjectives
or when an adjective modifies another adjective (instead of the noun):
His coal black hair glistened in the brilliant midday
The test is whether and can be substituted for
The comma also separates the items in a list or a
Jasmine visited the park, the museum, the courthouse,
and the historical hotel on the last day of her vacation.
Note that the comma before the last item in the series
(the one directly before and) is optional. Also, note that no comma
appears before the first element in the list (the park), nor after the
last element in the list (the historical hotel).
The comma is used in setting off transitional
expressions (however, regardless, of course and so on) from the
rest of the sentence. Examples:
The weight of the ball, however, was greater than the
strength of the boy.
Of course, we could have eaten after they arrived.
Did he, after all, sleep in the den?
The comma is used with introductory elements:
No, he didn’t wear a hat.
Well, that was the just the beginning of my problems.
When the bell rings, the students race through the
A comma sets off long phrases that precede a principal
Before we could call Great Aunt Mary, we had to
locate her phone number.
After listening to the forty-five minute sermon, the
children were in no mood for lectures.
Confused yet? Great! There are even more rules to
The comma sets off words or phrases that rename nouns.
John, my oldest cousin, loves to garden.
Parkersburg, the third largest city in West Virginia,
has a population of 38,000.
The girl, who had cried the day before, played
happily with the other toddlers.
However, do not use a comma if the added information is
essential to the meaning of the sentence, such as:
The song "Unchained Melody" melts my heart.
People who dream in color are thought to be
The girl who had cried the day before made friends;
the girl who had been friendly sat quietly alone.
The test is whether the sentence makes sense if the
renamed noun is removed from the sentence.
A comma can indicate the omission of a word or words:
To err is human; to forgive, divine.
A comma is used to set off a word of direct address:
Aunt Mary, this is my friend, Nathan.
People, don’t let this happen to you.
Thank you, Wilma, for teaching me about commas.
A comma is used set off a quotation from a dialogue
He said, "I didn’t do it."
"I don’t believe it," Jason replied, "but maybe if you
prove it, I will."
"I don’t believe it, either," Anna said. "Prove it."
A comma sets off a tag question from the rest of the
I didn’t see it there, did you?
That’s the best movie of the year, isn’t it?
A comma also can be used to set off any sentence
element that might be misunderstood if the comma were not used, such as:
To me, Millie would always be my best friend.
Some time ago, Roxanne decided to become a dancer.
And finally, a comma is used to set off a city from a
state, the year from a full date, a series of four or more numbers, and
to set off titles and degrees from surnames and from the rest of a
My children were born in Winneconne, Wisconsin.
My oldest daughter was born on November 21, 1986.
I wish my husband made $625,000 a year.
My husband’s full name is Sherden C. Tritt, Jr.,
although he goes by "Butch."
As you can see, the innocuous little fellow known as the
comma can be quite cantankerous. It’s no wonder that comma usage is the
number one mistake I see on manuscripts I edit. Study this little guy—once
you’ve mastered him, you’ve accomplished a great feat.
Correct the following sentences (note that some
sentences may have more than one error). See Section 6. for
1. Dana ate eggs for breakfast, while she sits on the
2. "Is it alright for Judy to lay on the floor"?
3. "I should of known, it was on my birthday Sept. 26",
4. Aunt Mary, never wore that hat more then 3 times.
5. ‘Making up stupid sentence’s effects my conscious,’
6. I looked at she and she looked at I . . . and we just
kept looking at one another.
7. Stacy—my youngest daughter, likes to run further then
shes supposed, to go.
8. My dog lays on the floor . . . my cat prefers the
windowsill: I like the couch.
9. The Doctor, dr. John Marshall Jr. would of taken my
temperature if I hadn’t of told him that believe it or not my daughter was
10. If you have problems with these exercises than you
should study you’re grammar.
(from Section 4, Workbook)
Want more great tips and techniques? Our
Inspiration for Writers
Tips and Techniques Workbook is now available. Expanded tips, more
topics, reproducible worksheets, exercises to practice what you learn and
much more--check it out! Free shipping anywhere in the United States.
(c) copyright 2002 by Sandy Tritt. All rights reserved,
except for those listed here. September be reproduced for educational purposes
(such as for writer's workshops), as long as this copyright notice and the url: http://tritt.wirefire.com are distributed with the pages. For use in
conferences or other uses not mentioned here, please contact Sandy Tritt
for permission and additional resources at no or limited charge.
Go Back in Time!...
our new all - immersion Life of Jesus (Part 1) from David C. Cook
III. You'll become a true believer. Visit...
is dedicated to the memory of David C. Cook III.
From Paul the Apostle...
By Kurt Schuller
inspired work recreating
Creating Your Own
Bruce Holland Rogers
in any form sometimes gets a bad rap
as the option for writers who
can't get published any other way.
Let me explain,
I, as an award-winning freelance
writer, decided to start my own
subscription service for my fiction.
It's a matter of
having the best of both worlds. My
ideal interaction with readers is a
live reading. I like the
immediate feedback. I also like
being able to go from literary
fiction to SF to fairy tale to
mystery with the same readers. I
like to share stories that are hot
off the keyboard, too.
Traditional publishing for short
fiction is not like my
ideal. Most markets take a long time
to respond, and even though almost
all of my fiction finds a paying
market eventually, initial
rejections and then production
delays mean that a story often
doesn't see print until
years after I finish it.
The pay is low for
short fiction, the wait is long, and
the audiences are segregated by
genre. Yet even with these problems,
traditional publishing is still the
best way to build a reputation.
Wouldn't it be great to have the
best of both worlds, an immediate
connection to readers as soon as a
piece is polished, but the
advantages of print publication?
That's why I started
www.shortshortshort.com, an email
subscription service for my own
short-short stories. I charge
subscribers a small enough fee that
signing up isn't much of a risk. For
the price of a fancy coffee and a
cookie, they receive three stories a
month for a year.
subscribers were friends and family,
but the low price encouraged people
to give gift subscriptions. My list
of paying subscribers has slowly
grown. It has taken two years to get
to 390 readers.
subscribers are total strangers, I
sell most of my subscriptions to
people who have at least heard me
give a talk or read a story in the
flesh. Word of mouth has helped me
spread the service to 29 countries.
Internet and International sales
There are down
sides. Some magazine editors
consider my email subscriptions to
be the same as regular publication,
so they won't consider my stories
for print publication. I have lost
half of my magazine markets for that
Some readers find
they don't like reading their
fiction on the screen or in email.
Not all readers turn out to like my
work, so not every email response
Then again, half
of my print markets don't care about
the email distribution. They still
buy my stories at the regular rate.
selling almost all of my stories
eventually. Subscription renewals
praise make up for the occasional
The biggest plus of
all is that I invented a new way of
to my audience. The novelty itself
has publicity value.
I was recently
written up in my local
That brought some subscriptions and,
I'm sure, a greater awareness of my
In a market full of
good writers, it helps to have more
than one reason for readers to take
a look at you.
Other writers may
want to duplicate what I've done,
and I think that would be great. I'd
be happy to hear from any writers
who set up their own subscription
service. But rather than following
my precise footsteps,
I suggest that other
writers consider what they want from
writing that they aren't getting
right now, and create a way of
getting that. Is there a format, a
genre, a distribution channel that
can complement or substitute for
Why not give it a
try? Why limit your creativity to
Subscribe to a
year's worth of Bruce's short-short
stories for just
$5 USD. Full information at:
Critiques by Sandy
Unlike most editors, I consider my role
to be a mentor or a coach. Instead of just telling you what is wrong, I
explain how to correct the problem, and I work with you to teach you how
to write effective prose. More than 50% of my business is repeat
business, and I relish establishing long-term relationships with other
Treat you with respect and compassion.
All criticism will be of the "constructive" sort. My purpose is to
improve your writing, not to destroy your confidence.
Mark your manuscript, correcting
grammatical and spelling errors and suggesting alternative wording where
Highlight areas that are especially
well-written, so you will know where your strengths are.
Where appropriate, offer suggestions for
plot development, character development or other areas that could be
Return a two-to-four page written
analysis of your work. This will include evaluation of: plot, setting,
characterization, dialogue, special effects (flash forwards, flashbacks,
etc.), voice, point of view and any other areas particular to your work.
If appropriate, recommend reading or
resources to strengthen your areas of weakness.
Answer any questions you have via
Provide my telephone number for a
personal follow-up, if you desire.
For Sandy's success stories, see
Write Sandy at
(See Sandy's article above.)
Read... Move Over Maharishi
By Dee Landerman
An ordinary housewife is catapulted into the unknown. For over twenty-five years with one foot in the other dimension, experiences visions, apparitions, and visits from the divine. As a Christian Intuitive with the ability to see into a person’s spirit, she experienced first hand where the departed go.
She shares her life
openly with you, with the intent to
give answers and direction for you to
find power, peace and acceptance in
your own life. Dee reveals the ‘Heart
Of God’ about organized religion and
today’s churches, sharing God’s
concerns and desires for America and
Click here for more info...
Visit our sister websites...
Publishing New Writers,
March, 2004 (no. 502)
Publisher: Bruce L. Cook, P.O. Box 451, Dundee, IL 60118.
Fax (847) 428-8974.
Submissions /comments firstname.lastname@example.org.
To subscribe and/or review our archive of past newsletters, go to
by Mark Cousens
Mark has asked to share this
story as a warning - what can happen
if you are trapped in a cult. We share
this as a warning, and an example of
how writing can serve an important
purpose in society.
Nice, France, 1995, I spotted a man
handing out leaflets with a picture of
Albert Einstein on the front with
words to the effect of ' we only use
10% of our brain capacity, learn how to
utilise the rest, be an Einstein'.You
know, that sort of line.
me a bit so I decided to ask the guy what it was all about. The leaflet
didn't refer to scientology but
mentioned a book, called dianetics. He was
shifty and so my spiritual radar
alerted me to keep it all at arms length, but
cautiously, I investigated....
Big mistake. Thank God I was cautious
though. The book was toxic, but subtly
Not recognisably at first, but
cleverly constructed to undermine self
esteem, raise false promises that
flatter the ego and get readers to a
point of hunger/desperation for a
pseudo-scientific process called
This system (with occult origins) was
conjured up by Ron Hubbard, a most
depraved and unfortunate figure (when
you find out what anyone who knew him had to say about him, his aspirations
and quotes e.g. "The best way to make
a load of money is to start a new
religion", and the things he did and
how he ended up). Apparently, he
channelled some occult 'Empress' to
dictate the dianetics series of books. They
furnish the cult with its shaky and subversive ideological 'basis'.
Auditing is part- psychological, part-
hyponotic and entails very expensive
sessions that employ quasi
psychological techniques for gaining
influence over the subject.
To cut a long story short, this stuff
caused me a great deal of emotional (spiritual) distress at a vulnerable
time in my life (I was at a low ebb).
And its effects lasted for years.
A problem can only be tackled at the
level on which it is created and the problem with scientology is that
psychic problems shift constantly.
They are churned up continually via the
psychological processes used by their 'auditors' to attack self control and
Seeds of destruction are sown in the dianetics book(s). Their undermining
faith and effect of distracting
readers from the Truth of The Gospel
and from any wholesome knowledge, are
deeply buried. They are concealed and
only 'pop up' as the ideology unfolds,
snaring the unwary or indoctrinated.
Upon thorough investigation, I found the
pseudo -'philosophy' or 'theology' of
scientology, to be very suspect.
Subsequently, I am even more certain
it is a false and dangerous belief
system, designed to ensnare not
Even to be exposed to it is
misleading and damaging in itself. I
now know that it is best just to turn away.
After having managed to stay out of
the cult (although it was more
difficult than I can explain and I was tempted
to get involved out of curiosity) and after my brother had coincidentally
had similar experiences in Paris but been persuaded by me not to get
further into it, we met quite a lady.
Bonnie, an American lady and her
husband now run a charity called
Escape, in England, that helps people who want to
leave scientology to learn the truth about the cult and to recover from
exposure to its powerfully harmful influences.
Bonnie was at the upper echelons of
the organisation and involved for
8 years in 'auditing' people and
subjecting them to the expensive and fruitless techniques of the group.
Fortunately, steadily her conscience told her that the whole thing was very
wrong and so she wanted to try to leave quietly and politely. Not easy.
Understanding scientology's machinations from the inside, it was
unpalatable to others of the cult 'leaders' for her to leave. They
started to turn very nasty and things
quite sinister. Bonnie knew too much.
As well as having a policy of trying
to impress the gullible public by recruiting 'opinion formers' (such as
film stars like Tom Cruise, John
Travolta, Renee Zellwegger etc.) in
order to apply what they call the 'authorty principle' to influence
people into accepting scientology, and
as well as having a policy of placing
their people in positions of power and
influence (especially in the media and
legal systems of the world) they also
have a policy of harassment and
intimidation of those they identify to
be 'enemies to scientology'. So I'm not
100% comfortable about writing this article as I really don't need the
kind of attention that they can give
to their so called 'enemies'. The horror
stories are numerous. But never mind.
My faith is in the Lord Jesus Christ
and it feels OK now to talk a little bit about some of these things and
Later, 'The Landmark Forum' was
another cult that I also had the
misfortune of coming across (my ex girlfriend got
into that and so I went to investigate so as to be able to try to
help her to see what was what). But that's another story.
The Cult Information Centre (www.cultinformation.org.uk)
was very helpful in discussing what these things are and
how they are utterly unfruitful and
unedifying to say the least.
However, thankfully, there are also
many good people out there who are knowledgable and understanding about
such things. I met lawyers involved in
fighting the legal side of things for
'escapees' and many people with
various scrapes to tell of.
Finally, briefly, I would like to bear
witness of the redemptive love of my Saviour Jesus Christ who saw me
through these trials and gave me the
help I needed to navigate a spiritual
minefield. I love Him and the Gospel
that feeds me with the words of eternal
life and that brings great peace and balance to my life, whilst helping me
in all aspects of my relationships with friends and family. These
blessings are priceless.
If anyone asked me for advice about
getting into cults of any kind (and
it's vital to distinguish what a cult is) I
would say; be prayerful, be careful, be wise, love life, stay free....
To contact Mark, write us at
email@example.com and we will
contact him in your behalf.)