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 March, 2004

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Advanced 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 someone else’s?

I also see certain words misused with some frequency. These include:

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 the breeze.

Past tense: She lay on the sofa and enjoyed the breeze.

Alright/All right. 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.

Affect/Effect. Affect 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/Conscious. Conscience is a noun meaning having a sense of right and wrong. Conscious is an adjective meaning to be aware of.

Further/Farther. Farther 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 another."

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 known that.

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.


Punctuate dates like this:

September 1, 2002

September 2002



20th century

Punctuate time like this:

spell out the number when in a body of text: five o’clock

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 example:

"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 dash.


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 dash.

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 Nancy.
  • However, do not use a comma before and, but, or and nor when they link pairs of words, phrases or elements other than main clauses. Examples:

  • The students ate spaghetti for dinner and cake for dessert.
  • 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 sun.

    The test is whether and can be substituted for the comma.

    The comma also separates the items in a list or a series. Example:

    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 halls.

    A comma sets off long phrases that precede a principal clause:

  • 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 remember!

    The comma sets off words or phrases that rename nouns. Examples:

  • 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 clairvoyant.

    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 tag. Examples:

    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 sentence:

    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 sentence:

    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.

    Exercises: Grammar/Punctuation

    Correct the following sentences (note that some sentences may have more than one error). See Section 6. for solutions.

    1. Dana ate eggs for breakfast, while she sits on the floor.


    2. "Is it alright for Judy to lay on the floor"?


    3. "I should of known, it was on my birthday Sept. 26", she said.


    4. Aunt Mary, never wore that hat more then 3 times.


    5. ‘Making up stupid sentence’s effects my conscious,’ Sandy said.


    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 the patient.


    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 at tritt@wvadventures.net for permission and additional resources at no or limited charge.

       Keep writing!

    Sandy Tritt

    Inspiration for Writers tritt@wvadventures.net

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    Creating Your Own Audience


           by Bruce Holland Rogers

    Self-publication in any form sometimes gets a bad rap as the option for  writers who can't get published any other way.

    Let me explain, then, why
    I, as an award-winning freelance writer, decided to start my own email
    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.

    My first 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.

    While some 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.

    PayPal makes Internet and International sales relatively easy.

    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 reason.

    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 brings praise.

    Then again, half of my print markets don't care about the email distribution. They still buy my stories at the regular rate. I'm still
    selling almost all of my stories eventually. Subscription renewals and
    praise make up for the occasional raspberry.

    The biggest plus of all is that I invented a new way of relating
    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
    other fiction.


    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 traditional publishing?


    Why not give it a try? Why limit your creativity to the page?


    Subscribe to a year's worth of Bruce's short-short stories for just
    $5 USD. Full information at:



    Critiquing Special

    • Limited time special, one cent per word.  Just mention Publishing New Writers  Newsletter (March, 2004).

        Critiques by Sandy Tritt

    • 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 writers.

    • 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 appropriate, line-by-line.

    • 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 strengthened.

    • 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 email.

    • Provide my telephone number for a personal follow-up, if you desire.

    For Sandy's success stories, see http://tritt.wirefire.com/Manuscript_Critique.html

    Write Sandy at tritt@wvadventures.net

    (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 the world.

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    Publishing New Writers,

    March, 2004 (no. 502)


    Publisher: Bruce L. Cook, P.O. Box 451, Dundee, IL 60118.  Fax (847) 428-8974.

    Submissions /comments  cookcomm@gte.net.

    Links are welcome.


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    Stay rooted

    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. 


    It intrigued 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 so.

    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 'auditing'.

    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 self esteem.

    Seeds of destruction are sown in the dianetics book(s). Their undermining of 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 that it is a false and dangerous belief system, designed to ensnare not liberate.

    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 about

    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 got
    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 experiences.

    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 cousens@author-me.com and we will contact him in your behalf.)











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