Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Grammar Girl to the Rescue

Here's the thing about grammar. I'm not good at it. I can fake my way through, but I'm not the girl to turn to when you're trying to figure out if you should use further or farther in your sentence. (Okay, well, now I am, but only because the lovely Jessica Miles at Revell clued me into the rule when I used it incorrectly about a thousand times in one of my manuscripts.)

Every writer should have a Roseanna in their life. (This Roseanna is taken - you'll have to find your own.) Roseanna is that person I call when I want to know if I need a comma or if I should use me or I. Roseanna doesn't just know which I should use, she can tell me why.

Grammar has always felt like the math of the writing world to me. My brain doesn't do well with it. But I had to figure it out before I could get published. When an agent told me, "I like you, I like your story ... but you have a real problem with passive sentences. Make 'em active and we'll talk," you better believe I pulled out all my grammar references to figure out what the heck she was talking about.

While it's not nearly as fun to talk about hyphens and ellipses as it is developing a killer character backstory, good grammar is necessary. Grammar helps us effectively communicate our message. When we use poor grammar, it prevents our stories from shining.

So I've invited Roseanna to come on Go Teen Writers and talk about grammar because she is my go-to grammar girl.

Roseanna isn't just my best friend, she's also the author of the Biblical fiction love stories A Stray Drop of Blood and Jewel of Persia. Her first colonial fiction, Love Finds you in Annapolis, Maryland releases in December from Summerside Press. She is giving away a signed copy of Jewel of Persia to one lucky commenter. She'll be here for 3 days (today, Friday, and next Monday) so you'll have 3 chances to get entered. You can ask grammar questions, tell Roseanna how cute her hair is, whatever. (The book is only available for US residents. But if you live overseas and have an ereader, we could find a way to get you hooked up too.)

Okay, enough of me rambling. Passing the baton on to Roseanna...

Faster with a red pen than an errant three-year-old . . .
More apt to spout rules than your high school English teacher . . .
Able to correct commas with a single glance . . .
She’s [insert bugle blare here] Grammar Girl!

Are you imagining me soaring through the clouds with cape billowing behind me and GG emblazoned across my oh-so-cute costume? Excellent. Now let’s begin. =)

Grammar is important. (Stop groaning, now!) Grammar is what helps us fine tune what we say so that it comes out clearly and has the best possible impact. If your words are a sword, then grammar is the sharpness of the blade—an integral part of the words themselves, and that which gives them their shape and power.

I was one of those nuts who was always in the highest percentile in the Mechanics section of the standardized tests in English. I was editing my sister’s college English papers for her when I was 14. My college professors bandied about phrases like “your stylistic prowess.” (Oh yeah, I wrote that one down, LOL.) Am I the best writer in the world? Ahem. NO. But I know my grammar, which means I turn in polished, clean manuscripts.

That counts.

Stephanie asked me if I’d be willing to do some grammar posts, and I enthusiastically said, “YES!! I’d love to! How many? What about? When do I start??” (I told you—I’m a nut.) So over the next 3 days, I’m going to give a crash course in a few rules you should keep handy while you’re writing and check over before you send your work out into the world.

First, if we’re dealing with a manuscript, let’s talk basic formatting. You should always set up your page with 1” margins all around, double spaced, first line of a paragraph indented to .5” through your Format/Paragraph option. Don’t put extra spaces between paragraphs, not in a book. Don’t use hard returns to get to the next page—use a page break (Ctrl + Enter). Keep your alignment Left (not justified) except for chapter headings and section breaks, which are centered.

Okay. Now that your page is set up, you begin writing. Once you’ve written your first sentence, you hit the space bar, right? Be sure you only hit it once. Back in the day when I was in high school, we were taught to put two spaces between sentences, but no longer. So I had to retrain myself, and I still mess that up occasionally. So at the end of a document, I’ll do a Find search for two spaces and Replace All with one.

A few more “always” rules.

Always, a comma comes directly after a word—no space before it, but one after it. Same goes for a period, question mark, exclamation point, quotation mark, and any other form of punctuation. (Now, no rolling your eyes. I’ve seen this mistake often enough to make me cringe, LOL.)

Always, commas and period go within quotation marks, whether the sentence ends with the quotation end or not. (i.e. He barged into the room and said, “Hello,” then left again. NEVER: He barged into the room and said, “Hello”, then left again.) For question marks and exclamation points, they go within the quote only when part of the quote. (i.e. Have you ever heard the saying “eat, drink, and be merry”? BUT: Did she just ask, “Can I join you?”)

Always, each new speaker in dialogue gets his or her own paragraph. (Always, always, always!!)

See, not so bad, is it? I won’t start the real torture until next time. ;-) Check back in on Friday for the finer points of commas, quotes, and caps!

And if you have any questions, be they general or particular, bring ’em on! Grammar Girl to the rescue!


  1. In the system change, some comments were eaten. Here they were:

    Ellyn: Thanks for the formatting tips, Roseanna!! And I think it's ridiculous to have only one space after a sentence. Grrrr... Also, Stephanie, I have a problem with passive sentences too. -

    Jenna: I'm really glad you mentioned the "one space after a sentence ends" concept, because I've been putting two. Thanks for all the tips, Grammar Girl!

    Roseanna: Yeah, I learned this from agents/established writers in ACFW. Luckily, this is a super easy fix with the help of Find/Replace!

    And y'all can call me GG. ;-) Especially since there's another well-established grammar blogger out there who answers to Grammar Girl. Oops . . .

    Alyson: You remind me of my mom. She corrects my grammar almost every time I open my mouth. I like being told how to say things and write on an everyday basis.

    Julie Garmon: Great idea for blog posts. Thanks, you two. (I think it's thanks comma you two. Hope that's right!)

    "4readin": You do have cute hair, but that's not my question. I was wondering if you would reccomend any good books on grammar or maybe a curriculum. Thanks!

    Roseanna: The industry standard is the Chicago Manual of Style, which is far too big and inclusive to just sit down and use a curriculum, but it's good as a go-to with questions. ( To get the full version you have to subscribe, but much of it is available for free, too. Having gone to a college that used OED (Oxford English), I instead used Fowler's (a handy little book) for most of my research needs, though you have to be aware of where British and American style differs. I'll look into curriculum--most of my best teachers actually created their own grammar courses, which is no help to you at all, LOL.

    Rachelle: Okay, now I'm dying to know the rule for using further or farther...:) Does it have to do with direction?

    Sarah Holman: I am a writer who struggles with grammar as well. What is the best way for me improve my grammar?

  2. Roseanna: Well, the first step is usually to get a couple pages of your writing that has been corrected. Then start asking WHY the editor made the changes. When someone explains the reasoning behind the rules, it usually makes more sense than trying to memorize the rules without any rhyme or reason to them. So: Step 1: identify particular problems Step 2: figure out WHY they are problems Step 3: learn the fixes for said problems

    Farther = distance (far). Further = anything not measured in length, LOL. So she tosses a ball farther, which impressed him further. ;-)

    You know, these remind me of the best grammar exercise EVER. Take a short snippet of story you really like. Identify the parts of speech of each and every word (called sentence diagraming--so mark everything as noun, verb, proposition, article, interjection, conjunction, etc.). Then write your OWN little story using the exact parts of speech, but totally different words. This is called "modeling" and is a wonderful way to really get a grip on parts of speech.

    Sananora: Funny you should post about Grammar, I'm just taking it with my Great Aunt. She also made her own curriculum. It seems to be real good and makes sense...but then, I haven't really had any other Grammar I wouldn't know if it excels others. It's made so you don't have to have a anyone could do it... The new commenting thing is real weird...does anyone know how I can post a comment with my blogger profile?

    Jazmine: I feel so weird... I already know how to do most of the stuff you just said lol. Though I actually didn't know about the "Hello," thingy, where you put the period or comma in the quotation marks. :) Awesome post! I totally look forward to the next one, I definitely need polishing on my grammer skills.

    Roseanna: Great, Jazmine! And glad I could help with a minor point, too. =)

    Clarebear: I love to write, but I'm horrible at grammar. My family always thought I was a little weird because of this! Most of what I've learned has come from just reading so much, so thanks for the tips! :) I didn't know about the page format stuff. I've always been so confused by this. This might sound totally ridiculous, but I have one question... when you write what size are you supposed to use for the words? My computer chooses the size 11 automatically, but should I make my words bigger or smaller? Or does it really not matter?

    Roseanna: Industry standard is Times New Roman, 12 pt font.

  3. "4readin":Thank you so musch Roseanna! What do you find is the most difficult part of writing?

    Roseanna: Technically, or in general? =) In general, it's finding the time. But if we're talking about the actual writing itself, it's curbing my natural wordiness. In my first chapters of a story especially, I have a ton of words I don't need but which I use to develop the voice of the characters. I always have to go back and revise that, though, and pare it down as I go.

    Rachelle: Stephanie, I groan with you on math... Roseanna, your hair looks adorable in that picture. :) My question is, what do you mean by 'hard return'? When I want to get to the next page, which is always just to start a new chapter, I pounce on the Enter button. Is this wrong? Also, how many lines down the page should one put "Chapter #"? One? Seven? Thanks for the double-spaced tip. Fixing now. :)

    Roseanna: Hitting Enter = hard return. The problem with using that to start a chapter is that then as you edit, it throws off your new chapter every time a line moves around. But if you use a page break, it preserves the spacing on the new page, no matter what you do before it. As for that, you're supposed to start your new chapter about 1/3 of the way down. I do six (double-spaced) returns (this one's just the Enter key), my chapter heading, then two returns and start writing.

    Rachelle: Thank you. Fixing now (again).

    Of course, it took me a minute to figure out where Page Break was... :)

    Roseanna: The quick key thing for page break is Ctrl + Enter, by the way. Makes it way faster than pounding on the return key, too. ;-)

    Rachelle: Okay, anoher quick question. How many pages apart do you space your chapters? I used to make my goal about ten or so, depending on the length of the scenes included, but now with the double-spacing...

  4. YAAAY; Love the 'only one space between sentences' thing. Mom was salways telling me to put 'two' - apparently you're not the only one who learned that in school ;)
    My life is easier now.
    ~ Mirriam

  5. The technicalities of manuscript page format are terrifying!!! Will they really not look at your piece if it's not all perfect???