Some important basics

Here are just some basic thoughts for those who wish to be writers. (NB: If you have read this before when I posted it on DeviantArt, please note I have extended it). 🙂

Novelists can and do break the rules of grammar, however this should not be done in a blasé manner.  There is a difference between breaking rules for artistic value and being ignorant of those rules in the first place.

It’s a common misconception that if you send in a badly written story that’s really good plot/character wise that a publisher will accept it and have the Editor sort out all the grammar/spelling.  What is more likely, is it will be sent back to you possibly not even fully read.

The reason for this is that publishers don’t want to be doing all the work.  You have to show you have a good grasp of English and spelling/grammar is important (even if boring).  We might all be a little less careful when writing our emails, letters, texts or even tutorials :) (I blame that on using ubuntu OS and its word processing software has predictive text) however if you are considering writing professionally, then make sure you put more effort into your actual stories.

Also, just because one of your favourite author’s breaks a rule (eg: the had had rule) does not mean you should too.  The more you have published, the more the little things can slide.  However have some pride in your work if you want to be published and try not to let your standards slip.

Not a strong point
I’ve often heard from people that spelling and/or grammar is not their strong point. It isn’t for many people. When I was young I struggled with spelling, grammar was worse and even reading was difficult. In fact in English lessons and reading I was probably at the bottom of the class. Sadly that made me avoid reading even more. Thankfully my Grandmother was very patient and refused to let my temper tantrums and book throwing deter her from teaching me.

We all have strong and weak points, how we deal with them is important. Saying you struggle is not an excuse for not trying, neither is being dyslexic. I’ve met some incredible people who are dyslexic and want to be writers. Yes there are challenges, and yes it will be harder for them, but they are not using that as an excuse not to try.

If you want to be better then you have to identify your problem areas, your weaknesses and work on them. If someone corrects your grammar or your spelling, don’t be angry with them (unless they are being nasty and condescending about it, no one deserves that crap), take as what it is, helpful advice on improving.

Spelling / grammar check
Do NOT rely on these on your computer.  Firstly they don’t always pick up issues and sometimes they pick up things that you could get away with.   Learn the basics and use them when you do your own proof-reading.

Basic proof-reading can be done on the computer, but for anything more intense don’t read it on your PC or laptop.  To do it well, print out the scenes (half or double spaced for ease) and proof read them slowly.  Highlight words or errors, write in red pen to make it clear and make your notes legible.

Don’t OVER proof-read otherwise you can find yourself editing more than writing.  Write as much as you can, if you feel the need to proof-read do so but only once.  Then update the notes you made, correct the errors and move on.

We need to remember that learning continues after school. Reading is a good way to develop your spelling, the more you see and read words especially ones you struggle with the more they will remain in your memory.

If you often spell a word wrong, right it on a post-it and stick it near your computer or test yourself. I used to have the problem with “separate” I was convinced it was spelt with an e. I made a point of testing myself with its spelling over and over.

Other tricks are making up ways of remembering. For example, the one I use for people is “Stationery” and “Stationary”. One means pens, pencils, pads, rulers etc and the other means not moving. Only one letter separates them. How I remember it is that pens and pencils have an ‘e’ in them and trains are sometimes stationary and they have an ‘a’ in them. It may seem silly but it works and I’ve passed that onto a few people, some of whom are in their late 30s and still struggled with that word.

Here’s some basics that you should know and that can help you develop your writing.

Verb = A doing word
Example: The dog ran through the woods

Adjective = A describing word
Example: The hot air balloon was colourful.

Noun = A person, place, animal, object and abstract idea.
Example: They all travelled to the town.

Proper noun = Name of a specific person, place or thing.  (Person, days of the week, religions etc)
Example: Tim grabbed the ball

Sentence = A sentence is only a sentence when it includes a verb and a subject.
Example: The rain fell.
Despite its size this is a complete sentence.  The subject is “rain” and the verb is “fell”.

Similie – This is when you reference something is LIKE something else.
Example: The man screamed like a banshee
It is not just the word “like” that defines a similie (see below example).

Example: He was as tall as a house
The word “as” plays the same role here in referencing the man against something else.

Metaphor – This is when you state something IS something
Example: All children are monsters
Here we define children as monsters, not like monsters but they ARE monsters.

Oxymoron – Means to combine contradictory terms.
Example: There was a thunderous silence.
Here we see the word thunderous which is a loud sense put with silence. Contradictory and yet it works.

We all make errors, I’m sure just writing these tutorials there are errors.  I do what I can to check over them but these are not my most important works and I won’t dedicate large amounts of time to proof-reading over and over.  (Though if you spot an error, please do tell me). However when it comes to my novels, there I do excessive proof-reading (but not continually as mentioned above).

The more you write, the more your knowledge of English spelling and grammar increases and you find yourself making less errors and spending less time proof-reading.

Basic Errors
Here are some basic errors people make in their writing.

1) Had Had – This is my personal pet peeve, I hate seeing this in a novel and yet almost every novel I’ve read this double ‘had’ will appear.  It is not a typing error, it’s a grammatical error.  It shows a laziness in my opinion on the part of the author who should take the time to re-write the sentence.

Example:  He had had the car for five years now.
Re-write: The car had been with him for five years now.

2) Its & It’s – This is a simple error to make and occurs a lot in writing.  It’s = It is.  Its = belonging.  When there is an apostrophy, it is replacing a letter such as i.  So only use “it’s” if your sentence should be It is.  Use “its” when you are describing a belonging.  Such as its tail.  An apostrophy is not needed because there is no missing letter.

Example:  It’s raining (it is raining)
Example: The dog wagged its tail (the tail belongs to the dog)

3) Don’t / Won’t – It is recommended to new writers that you do not “bastardise” such things as do not and would not etc in general narrative.  You can however use ‘don’t won’t can’t’ etc in dialogue.  Characters may use these words but it is still considered a no-no in the main writing.

4) Their & there – The mis-use of these can be easily done.
“There” is about place.  Example: “the castle is other there.”
“Their” is about belonging.  Example: “the knights where in their castle”
Make sure you watch for it.  For those who struggle to remember which is which here’s a tip.  In places it’s the one with “here” inside.  Eg: Over “there“.

5) There & they’re – Another one that is simple to do due to the way they sound.
We know that there is about a place.
They’re is an abbreviated version of “They are”

Example: They’re over by the ferris wheel (they are over by the ferris wheel)

6) Where and were – These two are interchanged because many people don’t realise in what context they are used.
“Where” is referring to a location.  (example: Where is the train station?”).
“Were” is the past tense of are.    (example: We were going to the train station.)

7) Past & Present tense – Don’t mix up your tenses.  Most writing is done in past tense.  Be watchful of this when you proof-read.  (If you want to write in the present tense, that’s fine, just make sure you don’t mix your tenses).

Example: “She sat down and waited for the doctor.”  (past)
Example: “She sits down and waits for the doctor.” (present)
Example: “She sat down and waits for the doctor.” (mix – BAD)

8) Lose / Loose
I’ve seen this one a lot recently. Lose means to not to win. Loose means opposite of tight.

Example: I don’t want to lose the race
Example: These jeans are too loose

9) To, too & two
From what I see, the word “too” is often not used at all. So let’s quickly cover these. To is used in expressions. Too refers to more than, as well or also. Two is quantity.

Example: We are going to the park.
Example: I’ve eaten too many cookies (more than) Did you see that too? (as well / also)
Example: We have two dogs

10) The i before e rule
This one annoys me not because people get it wrong but because people are often taught wrong. Often we are taught with the following rhyme:

“I before E except after C”

So we know that words like “Thief” have the i before the e. Then in words like “Receive” we have the e before the i.

However there is more to the rhyme that I have found most people don’t know. Here is the full rhyme

“I before E except after C or when sounding like A as in Neighbour or Weigh”

This is why in those two words, the i is after the e even without there being a c.

11) Accept / except
They sound similar but it’s good to get this right.

Accept is a verb and can mean to hold something as true, to receive and to agree.

Example: They accept that you don’t understand the rules (hold something as true)
Example: Please accept my resignation (receive)
Example: I accept your invitation (agree)

Except is mostly used as a preposition, though can also be used as a conjunction

Example: I want nothing from you except my dignity (preposition)
Example: I would love to pet your dog except I am allergic (conjunction)

12) Your / You’re
Just like the There and Their, these two get interchanged. Your is about possession and you’re is a contraction of you are.

Example: Your dog bit me (the dog you own)
Example: You’re a bad influence (you are a bad influence)

NB: Since I expanded this from its original length, I will discuss punctuation at a later date! 🙂

Happy writing


PS: An appreciative thanks to Alaylyne for pointing out the silly error I made re: its and it’s (see the importance of proof reading people!). Thanks for letting me know, I have now fixed this 🙂

3 thoughts on “Some important basics

  1. Just wanted to say you wrote a wrong example for ‘its’ (under errors, 2nd part).
    The example says “Its my car”, when the correct form is “It’s my car” ( = it is)
    Some other appropriate example for the usage of ‘its’ would be “I like this car because of its colour”, since ‘its’ shows belonging to third-person singular (the car’s colour).

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