Yes, spelling counts in novels also

You may write the most brilliant story with the most sympathetic characters, but if your manuscript is full of spelling errors and typos, you will struggle to find readers. ☐ Spelling is correct. English spelling is notoriously difficult. It is rarely phonetic, as Spanish is, and is not consistent, as French is. Honestly, the only …

Beware the nonrules

Last time I noted that there are lots of misconceptions about what constitutes “grammar.” There are also lots of misconceptions about what constitutes “rules” of writing. Adverbs modify verbs is a rule. Don’t use adverbs is a nonrule. You may use adverbs, as long as you do so judiciously.

Get your grammar in line

Most writers are, by nature, very good about their grammar. But there are lots of misconceptions. ☐ Grammatical errors have been eliminated. Grammar, contrary to popular belief, does not include punctuation or spelling, as we often see on lists of “common grammatical errors,” which usually contain things like misplaced commas (punctuation) the confusion of affect …

A punctuation primer

Editing for manuscript mechanics involves examining your manuscript closely for minuscule details like these: ☐ Punctuation is properly applied. The most common punctuation errors I see have to do with commas, which is why I created the Comma Cheat Sheet. Few people have trouble with periods. They go at the end of sentences. Period errors …

When editing, save mechanics for last

It’s worth emphasizing that manuscript mechanics are placed last on the Elements of Fiction Editing Checklist because, though they’re the things our critique partners often spend the most time on, they’re the least important element of fiction. If you get everything else right, a copyeditor can fix the mechanics. But if anything else is wrong, the …

Writers are readers

Last time I talked about the importance of reading widely. Now, my list of books read for last year looks pretty puny compared to some. But it’s a diverse list, so I’m OK with that. I once sat in a meeting with a potential client who was looking for a ghostwriter. He admitted to me, …

How to find your writing voice

Think about voice in terms of style—your voice is your unique style of writing. When we start out, we tend to write like we think writers ought to sound, instead of finding our own sound. This leads to stilted, stiff writing. Here are some tips for finding your distinctive style. Write the way you speak—sort …

Avoiding cliches and purple prose

The next item on the Elements of Fiction Editing Checklist packs in several problems we see in novice writers’ voices: ☐ The author avoids flowery or “purple” prose, as well as cliches, recycled phrases, and unnecessarily repeated words. Now, there are some words you need to repeat or you’ll sound nutty. I remember once a …

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