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.
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!