(be sure to read and apply 8 Cs of Writing below)
always use “curly” apostrophes, not straight
Rule 1. Use the apostrophe
with contractions. The apostrophe is
always placed at the spot where the letter(s) has been
Examples: don’t, isn’t; You’re right. She’s a great teacher.
NOTE: Please avoid contracting subjects and verbs in narration or expository. Doing so can result in confusion of tense and passive voice. In dialogue, using such
contractions is possible since that is the way people talk.
Rule 2. Use the apostrophe to show possession. Place the apostrophe before the s to show possession in nouns that end in other than s or s sound. Place an apostrophe after a final
s to show possession.
Examples: a boy’s hat; a woman’s hat; one actress’ hat; a child’s hat; Ms. Chang’s house;
two houses’ doors
Rule 3. Use the apostrophe where the noun that should follow is implied.
Example: This was his father’s, not his, jacket.
Rule 4. To show plural possession, make the noun plural first. Then immediately use the apostrophe as needed (‘s) when word ends in something besides s and an apostrophe when
word ends in s or s sound).
Examples: two boys’ hats; two women’s hats; two actresses’ hats; two children’s hats
the Changs’ house; the Joneses’ golf clubs; the Strauses’ daughter;
the Hastingses’ appointment; the Leeses’ books
Rule 5. Do not use an apostrophe for the plural of a name.
Examples: We visited the Sanchezes in Los Angeles. The Changs have two cats and a dog.
Rule 6. With a singular compound noun, show possession with ’s at the end of the word.
Example: my mother-in-law’s hat
Rule 7. If the compound noun is plural, form the plural first and then use the apostrophe.
Example: my two brothers-in-law’s hat
Rule 8. Use the apostrophe and s after the second name only if two people possess the same item.
Examples Cesar and Maribel’s home is constructed of redwood.
Cesar’s and Maribel’s job contracts will be renewed next year. ( Indicates separate ownership.
Cesar and Maribel’s job contracts will be renewed next year. (Indicates joint ownership of more
than one contract.)
Rule 9. Never use an apostrophe with possessive pronouns: his, hers, its, theirs, ours, yours, whose. They already show possession so they do not require an apostrophe.
Examples: Correct: This book is hers, not yours.
Incorrect: Sincerely your’s.
Rule 10. The only time an apostrophe is used for it’s is when it is a contraction for it is or it has.
Examples: It’s a nice day.
It’s your right to refuse the invitation.
It’s been great getting to know you.
Rule 11. The plurals for
capital letters and numbers used as nouns are not formed with apostrophes.
Examples: She consulted with three M.D.s.
She went to three M.D.s’ offices. (The apostrophe is needed here to show plural possessive.)
She learned her ABCs.
the 1990s not the 1990’s; the ‘90s or the mid-’70s not the ‘90’s or the mid-’70’s
She learned her times tables for 6s and 7s.
Exception: Use apostrophes with capital letters and numbers when the meaning would be
Examples: Please dot your i’s. You don’t mean is.
Ted couldn’t distinguish between her 6s and 0’s. You don’t mean Os.
Rule 12. Use the possessive case in front of a gerund (-ing word).
Examples: Alex’s skating was a joy to behold.
This idea does not stop Joan’s inspecting of our facilities next Thursday.
Rule 13. If the gerund has a pronoun in front of it, use the possessive form of that pronoun.
Examples: I appreciate your inviting me to dinner.
I appreciated his working with me to resolve the conflict.
Use the possessive form of nouns before gerunds, too.
Example: I appreciated John’s working with me.
The use of brand names does not require written permission IF nothing derogatory is written or inferred about the brand.
Chapter headings for manuscriptHave each heading for each chapter the same formatting:
incorrect: Chapter 1 but Chapter two, CHAPTER III, Chapter 4, Chapter five
correct: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter
3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5 or Chapter One,
Chapter Two, etc.
Citations, Footnotes, End-notes, Bibliographies
Footnotes: We don't use footnotes except under very unusual circumstances. End-notes cause fewer disruptions in the flow of the manuscript.
End-notes: After the end of the manuscript, a list of sources is added. Each source is numbered to match the citation in the manuscript.
Bibliographies: Bibliographies list sources of information used or to be additional information concerning the subject of the book. Sources are listed alphabetically. Any bibliography comes after the end-notes in the appendix.
Comma or not to comma
and always use
“ curly” commas, not straight
really are not living entities that reproduce and decide where to live and
where not to live. Neither are they snow
flakes that land wherever the wind may take them. They are not decorations to be used or not as
a person’s fancy may decide. Commas
actually have a vital and exact use in writing stories, poetry, essays, or
articles. Let’s visit Comma World and see
if we can discover when and where commas should be used.
Use a comma to separate three or more words in a series, and use a comma before the conjunction.
Error: Wolves are found in Alaska, Canada and Minnesota.
Correct: Wolves are found in Alaska, Canada, and Minnesota.
Names directly addressed need to be set off
Error: Don’t run on the ice Mary, or you’ll fall.
Correct: Don’t run on the ice, Mary, or you’ll fall.
Commas should be used to set off
conjunctive adverbs that introduce a clause or sentence. However,
internal or final conjunctive adverbs should be set off by commas only when they interrupt the flow of a
Error: Meanwhile the Everly Brothers introduced country harmonies to rock-and-roll.
Correct: Meanwhile, the Everly Brothers introduced country harmonies to rock-and-roll.
Mild interjections not needing exclamation points will need to be set off by commas. These interjections
include words such as yes, no, well, okay, and oh.
Error: Well you aren’t clear when you write.
Correct: Well, you aren’t clear when you write.
Error: When I saw the hole in the offensive line wow I knew the safety would sack the quarterback.
Correct: When I saw the hole in the offensive line, wow, I knew the safety would sack the quarterback.
Error: Oh no John don’t do that.
Correct: Oh, no, John, don’t do that.
Another place commas are used would be between main clauses. The comma comes before the conjunction
(and, or, nor, but, yet, sometimes for) joining the main clauses in a compound sentence.
Error: Rabbits usually run when sensing danger but sometimes they freeze in place.
Correct: Rabbits usually run when sensing danger, but sometimes they freeze in place.
Equal adjectives should be separated
with a comma. One test is to see if the
word and could be used
between the adjectives. If so, then a comma is needed.
Error: The velvet skirt fell in soft flowing folds.
Correct: The velvet skirt fell in soft, flowing folds. (Test: The velvet skirt fell in soft and flowing folds.)
NOTE: Adjectives that must be in a specific
order are not separated by commas.
Error: They have many, clever ways of surviving.
Correct: They have many clever ways of surviving. (many tells how many clever)
A phrase adding nonessential information
should be set off by commas.
Error: Wolves in pairs or sometimes in packs hunt animals such as deer and caribou.
Correct: Wolves, in pairs or sometimes in packs, hunt animals such as deer and caribou.
A comma is needed after introductory words.
Error: To be sure smaller animals can make fierce pets.
Correct: To be sure, smaller animals can make fierce pets.
A phrase that is essential to the meaning
of sentence should not be set off by commas.
Error: Animals, falling into this category, include rodents and rabbits.
Correct: Animals falling into this category include rodents and rabbits.
A clause which
doesn’t add essential information in a sentence should be set off by commas.
(A clause has a subject and verb that go together.)
Error: Clowns who usually cause people to laugh instill fear in some people.
Correct: Clowns, who usually cause people to laugh, instill fear in some people.
should not set off essential clauses
Error: The wolf, that is found in Alaska, is called the gray wolf.
Correct: The wolf that is found in Alaska is called the gray wolf.
Non-essential appositives should be set off by commas. (An appositive is a noun or pronoun - word,
phrase, or clause - placed after another noun or pronoun to provide more information or rename the first.)
Error: The gray wolf a wild species of dog is also called the timber wolf.
Correct: The gray wolf, a wild species of dog, is also called the timber wolf.
But an appositive essential to the meaning of the sentence should not be set off by commas.
Error: The writer, Mark Twain, writes about a young man who runs away.
Correct: The writer Mark Twain writes about a young man who runs away.
a name can be non-essential, and sometimes it can be essential. If a person has only one brother, then the brother’s name would be non-essential.
If he has more
would be essential.
Examples: My brother, Bob, lives in New York. (“I” have only one brother.)
My brother Bob lives in New York. (“I” have two brothers.)
show a pause in thought or speech, or show that speech trails off. Normally, a
space comes before and after the three periods. (NOTE: If closed quotation marks come after ellipses, a
space is not used after the ellipses.) Ellipses should be used seldom.
“I never drink ... wine.”
better way would be to revise to avoid ellipses: “I
never drink,” he paused, “wine.” Or maybe,
“I never drink, uh, wine.” Or just write, “I never drink wine.”
at the end of a sentence do not have another period, just a space and the three
We wanted to go to Europe in the spring, but we’ll just have to wait ...
The better way to write the above sentence would be delete the ellipses and just have a period.
Do not add ellipses after any other punctuation: not after a question mark, an exclamation point, a comma, or any other punctuation.
Another note - use dashes and ellipses sparingly. Other ways to show hesitation or pauses in dialogue is possible. I know because I had to break myself of the same habit.
Em/en dashes should have a space
before and a space after the dash. Dashes show a halt in speech or thought,
something has stopped the flow abruptly. Dashes should be used as seldom
as possible. (NOTE: If closed quotation marks come after a dash, a
space is not used after the dash.)
No – I simply can’t.
The better way is to revise so that the dash is eliminated: No, I simply can’t.
Dashes and hyphens are NOT interchangeable. Do not use a hyphen in place of a dash or a dash in place of an hyphen. Double hyphens do NOT take the place of a dash unless you have programmed your program to change a double hyphen into a dash. Using a double hyphen rather than a dash makes formatting more difficult. If you are unsure how to create a dash on your computer, search for information.
marks should be used sparingly and never in narration or expository sections.
When possible, information, action, or tags should show the strong emotion
than a !. An exclamation point and a tag showing strong emotion should not be used together, or at least seldom.
Incorrect: “You can’t do that!” Tina cried. Correct: “You can’t do that,” Tina cried.
Incorrect: Roger jumped to his feet! Correct: Roger jumped to his feet.
File names should have title of manuscript and date of edits.
Every manuscript/edited manuscript/revision should have a file name of title version date.
after editing by lead editor is finished, are to send a “fresh” manuscript to
the chief editor with all edits and notations removed
and all revisions finished. File is to be
titled title of book, fresh ms, and date:
example: Bugs and Company fresh ms 1-27-10
For manuscripts, Times New Roman 12 is best, with one (1)
inch margins all around.
Designer will determine font and size for book when she/he formats.
A glossary is to be
placed after the text/story (beginning on a right-handed page but not facing the last page of the text/story) with terms in alphabetical order and
bolded. The definition will not be in bold. Each glossary term and
definition will be set off from the following one with double spaces.
Cat: a small animal, usually a pet
Rat: a rodent
numbers under 100 in words. Use numerals for 100 and over. If a number begins a
sentence, either revise sentence
so number is moved, or write number in words.
Pronoun cases: nominative ( subject)
singular 1st person I me my, mine
2nd person you you your, yours
3rd person he, she, it him, her, it his, her, hers, its
plural 1st person we us our, ours
2nd person you you your, yours
3rd person they them their, theirs
Nominative (subjective) cases are used for subjects and predicate nominatives (nouns and pronouns that follow linking verbs and rename the subject) – never for objects. Appositives of subjects and predicate nominatives are also in the nominative (subjective) case.
Objective cases are used for objects only: direct objects, indirect objects, and objects of prepositions, as well as appositives for those objects. Objective case is never used for a subject.
Incorrect: Me and John want to go to the
game. Correct: John
and I want to go to the game.
Incorrect: The one who lost the game is him. Correct: The one who lost the game is he.
Incorrect: The game was won by you and he. Correct: The game was won by you and him.
Incorrect: Just between you and I, tomorrow will be fun. Correct: Just between you and me, tomorrow will be fun.
Indefinite pronouns are words such as each, someone, somebody, no
one, everyone, all, etc. Be sure the pronoun which refers to an indefinite
pronoun is the right case and person. Each, someone, somebody, no one,
everyone, and everything are singular and require a singular pronoun. Check and
be sure whether an indefinite pronoun is singular or plural.
Incorrect: Everyone keeps their own books. Correct: Everyone keeps his (or her) own books.
Or Correct: All the students keep their own books.
Clear pronoun reference: Clear pronoun reference is a must, which means readers can easily recognize the antecedent for each personal pronoun. An antecedent is the noun or indefinite pronoun to which the pronoun refers. A pronoun should be close to its antecedent.
“It” should not begin a sentence unless its antecedent is near the end of the preceding sentence or unless “it” refers to the preceding thought, clearly referenced.
careful that personal pronouns are not confusing, that several males aren’t in the
sentence or paragraph so that the reader doesn’t know to which noun the
pronouns he, his, him refer.
Incorrect: The two men ran toward the burning car. The flames trapped James. He couldn’t find a way to open
any of the doors. The fire sheared his eyebrows. It couldn’t be real.
Correct: The two men ran toward the burning car where flames trapped James. The two nor James could find a way
to open any of the doors. The fire sheared James’ eyebrows. As the heat intensified, the man inside the
car couldn’t believe he wouldn’t escape.
Paragraphs and indention
Use tab to indent. Do NOT use space bar to space over for indention.
Use a separate paragraph for each time a different person has dialogueue.
Have only one topic per paragraph. Avoid long rambling paragraphs whenever possible.
Point of View
There are only three points of view: First person; Second person; and Third person (which has two sub-divisions - limited and omniscient)
First person: The narrator tells the story, can only report what he hears or sees personally unless someone else tells him something that happens when he isn’t present.
Second person: Used for instructions or directions since the reader is involved. Seldom used in fiction or nonfiction successfully, not wanted used for 4RV.
person: The narrator sees and hears and knows what is happening, although he
is not a part of the plot.
Limited: The narrator can only know what one character feels or knows, reports from that character’s perspective.
Omniscient: The narrator can see, hear, know what more than one character feels or knows. The narrator sees all
and knows all from more than one character’s perspective. Good use of omniscient doesn’t confuse
the reader by jumping between characters too quickly, only changes perspectives between scenes or
chapters. Never should have more than one perspective in a single paragraph.
Perspective and Point of View are not the same thing. Perspective of one character in third person point of view does not mean the author is writing from that character’s point of view but from his perspective. Point of view comes only in the “flavors” above.
Quotation marks and punctuation
always use “curly” quotes, not straight
In dialogue, all punctuation goes inside the end quotation marks, if part of the dialogue.If the phrase, clause, or words inside the quotation marks is not dialogue, commas and periods go inside end quotation marks. Question marks and exclamation marks go outside the end
quotation IF not part of material quoted.
Incorrect: “I’m not sure”, John replied. “Maybe you should
Correct: “I’m not sure,” John replied. “Maybe you should ask Mary.”
Incorrect: John turned to Tim. “Did you say, ‘I’m not going?’” or “Did you say, ‘I’m not going’”?
Correct: John turned to Tim. “Did you say, “I’m not going’?”
Incorrect: My favorite short story is “Hidden Lies”.
Correct: My favorite short story is “Hidden Lies.”
Incorrect: Mary yelled, “Get away from me”!
Correct: Mary yelled, “Get away from me!”
A long quotation, not dialogue: The quoted material, when more than two lines,
should be a block with each
line indented from both sides, but no quotation marks used. Example:
Jones, “Writing the Watson Way,” gave the following information to writers,
which is her opinion:
Tom Watson was one of the best authors of all times found in the British
Empire. He believed that all writers were responsible for making readers
a part of the action and for them to feel as if they are included.
Quotation punctuation: Commas and periods go inside a final double or single quotation mark.
marks and exclamation marks go inside the final quotation marks IF part of the dialogue.
Question marks and exclamation marks go outside the final quotation marks if NOT part of the dialogue.
Incorrect: Mark asked, “Did John say, ‘I’m not part of that’” ?
Correct: Mark asked, “Did John say, ‘I’m not part of that’?”
Incorrect: “That’s not correct”, Mark said.
Correct: “That’s not correct,” Mark said.
Quotation marks are used around the titles of articles, short stories, and one-act plays when those are used in a sentence or paragraph. Quotations are not used when the titles
are at the top of a work.
Sentences and Sentence Structure
What is a sentence?A sentence is a group of words (clauses) which have a complete thought.
Clauses: a dependent clause (subordinate clause) is a group of words that has a subject and verb but not a complete thought. (a sentence
fragment is a dependent clause)
an independent clause (main clause) is a group of words that has a subject and verb and forms a complete thought.
Simple sentence: one independent clause example: Russel enjoys baseball.
Compound sentence: two or more independent clauses joined correctly with punctuation or a comma and a conjunction
March is a windy month in Oklahoma, but it often has bouts of winter weather.
March is a windy month in Oklahoma; it often has bouts of winter weather.
March is a windy month in Oklahoma: it often has bouts of winter weather.
Complex sentence: one independent clause and one or more dependent clause example: When the wind blows, the temperatures seem colder.
Compound-complex sentence: two or more independent clauses joined
correctly and one or more dependent
When the wind blows, the temperatures seem colder, and I don’t want to leave the house.
We can use a variety of sentence types in writing to make the writing more interesting.
Problems with sentence structures:
Run-sentences halt a reader because he or she has to stop and decide what
the writer means. Run-on sentences are compound
sentences joined incorrectly. A run-on sentence interrupts the flow and meaning of what is written.
First of all, a compound sentence is two or more independent clauses joined by a comma and a coordinating conjunction, by a
semicolon or a semicolon and a comma, or by a colon.
An independent clause or main clause is a group of words with a subject and verb which contains a complete thought.
Independent clause: The boy ran around the house, screaming at the top of his voice.
Dependent clause (not a complete thought}: Screaming at the top of his voice.
A coordinating conjunction is a word such as and, but, or, nor, yet, or for that joins items of equal value. The conjunction may join
subjects, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and/or clauses.
Now let’s examine run-on sentence problems and how to correct them. The first run-on sentence which we’ll work with is as follows:
Run-on: Secretary of State William Seward bought Alaska from Russia the deal was mocked as “Seward’s Folly.”
One way uses an end mark and a capital letter to separate the independent (or main} clauses into separate sentences.
Separate sentences: Secretary of State William Seward bought Alaska from Russia. The deal was mocked as “Seward’s Folly.”
Another way is to use a semicolon between clauses.
Semicolon: Secretary of State William Seward bought Alaska from Russia; the deal was mocked as “Seward’s Folly.” Note: both clauses must be
closely related for this method to work.
Using a comma and a coordinating conjunction between clauses also works.
Comma and coordinating conjunction: Secretary of State William Seward brought Alaska from Russia, but the deal was mocked as “Seward’s
A final way to correct a run-on sentence is to introduce one clause with a subordinating conjunction (creating a dependent or
subordinate clause - a clause not making a complete thought) and use a comma before the new independent or main clause. This combination
creates a complex sentence: the use of one independent clause and one or more dependent clauses.
Complex sentence: When Secretary of State William Seward brought Alaska from Russia, the deal was mocked as “Seward’s Folly.”
A comma splice, another type of run-on sentence, can be corrected in the same ways. In a comma splice, the two independent clauses
are joined only by a comma. The sample sentence will be the following:
Comma splice: The president of the company found himself in a quandary, the company was going bankrupt.
Separate sentences: The president of the company found himself in a quandary. The company was going bankrupt.
Semicolon: The president of the company found himself in a quandary; the company was going bankrupt.
Comma and coordinating conjunction: The president of the company found himself in a quandary, for the company was going bankrupt.
Complex sentence: Because the company was going bankrupt, the president of the company found himself in a quandary.
When sentences are not correct, are not finely tuned, the quality and clarity of communication is lost. One way to keep sentences from working is stumbling over sentence
fragments. A sentence fragment is a group of words punctuated as a sentence but which lacks a subject, a verb, or both, and which doesn’t contain a complete thought.
Let’s examine the following paragraph to discover some sentence fragments:
Intrepid mountain climbers scaling a tall peak. Climb higher and higher. Up the frozen slopes. When they reach the top. They can look forward to an even more treacherous descent.
All of the sentence-like-punctuated groups of words in the preceding are fragments except the last. We will keep the paragraph in mind as we look at some ways to correct
Sometimes a fragment lacks a subject. Therefore, adding a subject makes the fragment a sentence.
Fragment without a subject: Climb higher and higher.
Sentence: They climb higher and higher.
Another way to correct a sentence fragment would be to connect the fragment with a sentence, rewording it if necessary.
Fragment without subject or verb: Up the frozen slopes.
Sentence: They climb higher and higher up the frozen slopes.
At times a fragment lacks a verb, perhaps using a verbal or verb without a helping verb. The way to correct this type sentence fragment would be to add a verb or change a
verbal to a verb.
Fragment without a verb: Intrepid mountain climbers scaling a tall peak.
Sentence by adding a helping verb: Intrepid mountain climbers are scaling a tall peak.
Sentence by changing a verbal to a verb: Intrepid mountain climbers scale a tall peak.
At times, a fragment has a subject and verb but doesn’t contain a complete thought. To create a correct sentence, usually the fragment will need to be connected to a
Fragment lacking a complete thought: When they reach the top.
Sentence: When they reach the top, they can look forward to an even more treacherous descent.
Now let’s see how the original paragraph filled with fragments can be a correctly formatted paragraph.
Intrepid mountain climbers scale a tall peak. They climb higher and higher up the frozen slopes. When they reach the top, they can look forward to an even more treacherous
A side note, sometimes writers will use an occasional sentence fragment for effect, but only occasionally. The effect is easily recognized by the reader when this practice is used.
Otherwise, avoiding the problem is best.
Dangling Modifier, a word, phrase or
clause that implies something different from what the writer meant.
This writing error damages flow
and continuity in both fiction and nonfiction. Much of the time, sentences with dangling modifiers stop readers because they become
confused, asking themselves questions like: Is what I just read correct? Is that really what the writer meant? This is an example:
Incorrect: While driving home the other night, a tree fell across the road. Problem: Was the tree driving home the other night?
“While driving home the other night” is the modifier, and since modifiers like to latch onto the nearest noun, in this sentence the modifier
latches onto “a tree.” How do you fix a sentence like this? Insert the missing noun (the driver) or change the modifier.
Better: While Emily drove home the other night, a tree fell across the road.
particularly in presentation and training materials, but it can crop up anywhere. Once again, this grammatical mistake will cause the reader to stop because they know
something is wrong … even if they can’t put a name to it.
Incorrect: She likes to run in the park, sleeping late, and finds joy in making videos. Problem: The activities she enjoys [“to run in the park” and “sleeping late” and
“finds joy in making videos”] do not have the same grammatical form.
Correct: She likes to run in the park, to sleep late, and to make videos. Now the verbs that describe each activity use the same grammatical form.
Also correct: She likes running in the park, sleeping late, and making videos.
Also correct: She likes running in the park, sleeping late, and making videos.
Parallel structure means that the items in a list, or the subheadings throughout a document, are the same part of speech. Remember, an important goal for a writer is to keep
the reader reading. Incorrect grammar and word relationships will stop most readers, even if they aren’t sure why.
Spelling and Grammar
U.S. spelling rules will be used, as well as U.S. grammar, punctuation, and structure usage.
Words that sound alike but are spelled differently are misspelled if the wrong spelling is used. For example, they’re, their, and there mean different things and, if used incorrectly, are misspelled. See Write Tight Tips below for more information.
Remember, authors and editors, helping authors improve their writing does not change their voice. Good writing is good writing, but sometimes it needs help to be the best it can be. Editors should give suggestions and show where there are problems in a manuscript, but authors need to do the revising and fix any problem areas, should do any actual rewriting or revising. If the suggestions are not what the author prefers, he/she needs to find a way to revise in his/her way, but the problem or problem areas MUST be repaired.
Voice means how a person writes.
Indent every paragraph, using the tab. Do not leave extra blank lines between paragraphs unless the scene changes or time passes. Then leave three (3) blank lines between the paragraph at the end of the previous scene or time period and the first paragraph starting the next scene or time period.
Avoid using second person except for directions or in dialogue.
Italics: Thoughts of characters are to be italicized.Title of books, magazines, newspapers, movies, and full length plays, when used in a sentence or paragraph are italicized. Those titles when used as the title at the top of a work are not.
Show, don’t tell:
Use action verbs and active voice to allow the reader to “see” what is happening. Long boring descriptions and background shouldn’t be written in long, detailed
paragraphs, but scatter throughout to hold the attention of readers and not bore them.
Avoid using passive voice unless absolutely necessary, and then seldom.
Time references: Use AM and PM, all capitals and no
periods, when needed.
Using references such as I want you here by 3:10 PM, no excuses, is fine. But I want you back home in three hours or by three o’clock this afternoon, not three o’clock AM or PM.
Write Tight Tips
“Write tight, delete
unnecessary words and phrases.” Let’s
look at the words and phrases which, if we eliminate them, will tighten our
Note: to discover these in something already written, use the “Find” application under Edit in your word processing program.
Down: A verb that implies down doesn’t require the use of the word.
The boy fell down.
The boy fell.
Up: A verb that implies up doesn’t require the use of the word.
The bird flew up to the tree branch..
The bird flew to the tree branch.
Out: If the verb implies out, using the word is not necessary.
She spread the bedspread out across the bed.
She spread the bedspread across the bed.
Then: If action follows, the word then is implied already.
He aimed the gun, then fired.
He aimed the gun and fired.
Began – started:
He picked up the book and began to read.
He picked up the book and read.
He lifted the pen and started to write.
He lifted the pen and wrote.
Felt – feel: Weak words should be replaced to created a stronger, clearer image.
The chill of the night air had little to do with the cold she felt.
The chill of the night air had little to do with the cold swirling inside her.
Back: If the subject of a sentence is doing one thing and then another, back is usually unneeded.
Jessie shook her head as she frowned back at her friend.
Jessie shook her head as she frowned at her friend.
Back – returned: Sometimes “returned” signals going back to a previous action.
He turned his attention back to the raging storm.
He returned his attention to the raging storm.
Instead: If it’s a given that some action would occur, then “instead” is not needed.
If he misses the chair, he will land on the floor instead of the chair.
He will land on the floor.
To the: Using the phrase often causes wordiness.
She opened the door to the office.
She opened the office door.
Suddenly: If the next action shows the action and follows your use of “suddenly,” using “suddenly” is not necessary.
Suddenly the bull lurched forward.
The bull lurched forward.
Suddenly the boy yelled.
The boy yelled.
or Without warning, the boy yelled.
Be-ing: Sometimes using the present participle of verbs causes longer and weaker sentences.
I should be writing her.
I should write her.
Could: If the sentence conveys information without the word, don’t use.
He could see her walking toward him.
He saw her walking toward him.
better She walked toward him.
Would: Decide if the sentence with the word is stronger or the one without.
Occasionally, he would catch her watching him.
Occasionally, he caught her watching him.
There: Generally using there results in a weak sentence, and it should be removed if possible. Avoid beginning a sentence with “there” unless used before a noun as an adjective.
There were men too close.
Men were too close. Even better would be using an action verb: Men stood too close.
If there were men that close, they would clog any escape.
If men were that close, they would clog any escape.
There, it, this, that should not be used to begin sentences unless used as an adjective for a following noun.
Seemed: The word seemed should only be used to create doubt.
Harry’s presence seemed to dominate the camp.
Harry’s presence dominated the camp.
Was and other linking or to be verbs: Sentences are stronger when strong action verbs are used. Of course at times, linking and to be verbs must be used.
His only fear was the dark.
He only feared the dark.
To be: The phrase results in wordiness.
She needs to be doing her homework.
She needs to do her homework.
That: Sometimes that is necessary, but often is isn’t. Try the sentence without it and see if the meaning changes or not.
The reason that we …
The reason we …
Just: Just is an overused word. We need to try synonyms like merely, only, nearly, or eliminate.
there, their, they're: There is a place or placement; their is the possessive form of they (belongs to them); and they're means they are.
your, you're: Your means belonging to you; you're means you are.
its, it's: Its means belonging to it; it's means it is.
Avoid passive voice – use active voice: Passive voice does not show action by the subject, uses
state of being verbs (was, were, am, are, etc.) as the main verb or helping verb, or uses
have, had, has as a helping verb. When possible, replace with action verbs. Also passive voice has the subject not doing the acting, but receiving the action.
Avoid state of being verbs when possible. Show, don’t tell.
The ball was
thrown by the boy.
The boy threw the ball.
(NOTE: A special thanks to Margot
Finke’s Secrets of “Writing for Children” and the comments on her forum for the
Muse Conference for a small portion of the previous tips.)
Authors need to cut anything that does not add to the story, plot, characters, and/or conflict. Extra words and/or phrases, passive voice, or long, unnecessary descriptions weaken writing. We all need to write tight and write right.
REPEAT: Use Strong Action Verbs and Active Voice – Part of Show, Don’t Tell
Avoid using passive voice as much as
humanly possible (using had or have or has as a helping verb equals passive
Example: Jerry had stolen the book off the desk. – passive voice
Correct: Jerry stole the book off the desk. – active voice
Avoid using state of being verbs unless
absolutely necessary (is, are, was, were, am, be, being, been), even avoid
as a helping verb.
Example: Jerry is known for stealing everything he can. – state of being helping verb
Correct: Most people know Jerry steals everything he can. – rewritten to avoid state of being verb
NOTE: when to use capitalized common nouns
a common noun (such as dad, mother, momma) is used as a name, it is
capitalized. When a possessive pronoun or noun comes before the common noun, it
is never capitalized. Usually common nouns are not capitalized unless it is the
first word in a sentence, except used in place of a name.
Incorrect: Tilly told her Mother she would be home soon.
Correct: Tilly told her mother she would be home soon.
Incorrect: Tilly said mother told us to be home soon.
Correct: Tilly said Mother told us to be home soon.
When to Use Italics
Use italics for the following -- do NOT underline:
1. Thoughts (do not use quotation marks, but have words thought in italics)
- Journals and Magazines: Time, U.S. News and World Report, Crazyhorse, Georgia Review
- Plays: Waiting for Godot, Long Day's Journey Into Night
- Long Musical Pieces: Puccini's Madama Butterfly, Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite (but "Waltz of the Flowers"), Schubert's Winterreise
(but "Ave Maria"). For
musical pieces named by type, number and key — Mozart's Divertimento in D major, Barber's Cello Sonata Op. 6 — we use neither italics nor quotation marks.
- Cinema: Slingblade, Shine, The Invisible Man
- Television and Radio Programs: Dateline, Seinfeld, Fresh Air, Car Talk
- Artworks: the Venus de Milo, Whistler's The Artist's Mother
- Famous Speeches: Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, Washington's Second Inaugural Address (when that is the actual title of the speech)
- Long Poems (that are extensive enough to appear in a book by themselves): Longfellow's Evangeline, Milton's Paradise Lost, Whitman's Leaves of Grass
- Pamphlets: New Developments in AIDS Research
We do not italicize the titles of long sacred works: the Bible, the Koran. Nor do we italicize the titles of books of the Bible: Genesis, Revelation, 1 Corinthians.
3. Names of Vehicles
4. Foreign words or phrases
5.Words as Words: example - The word bass has more than one meaning.
6. For emphasis
7. Words as reproduced sounds: Grrr, the dog warned the children.
The title of a book, written at the top of the manuscript, is not written in italics nor underlined.
Authors and editors, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of strong writing. I will refuse something quicker for telling, when showing is the stronger writing, than for most any other reason.
8 Cs of Writing
- Clarity: the writing, plot, setting are all clear. Clear writing tends to be elegant, logically arranged, and easy to follow. Clear writing is so easy to read, follow, and digest that most readers won’t stop to think about the writer’s style at all. Clear writing promotes clear images in the mind of the reader. Improve the clarity of your writing by cutting unnecessary words, using action verbs whenever possible, and choosing concrete terms that not only help readers easily comprehend but remember what they are reading.
- Conciseness: When you write concisely, you express your opinions, give directions, or explain a scene using the best words, and often the fewest words, possible. Concise writing expresses essential ideas without unnecessary words that don’t add anything important and waste the reader’s time. Concise writing does not contain useless repetitions or wordy expressions, as explained below. Redundancy: Useless repetition weakens your writing and wastes the reader’s time; it may even be insulting. Concise writing is clean writing, using only the words needed to express an idea. When editing your prose for conciseness, aim to cut out words and phrases that are vague, repetitious or pretentious.
- Concreteness: Writers can achieve concreteness by choosing the specific over the abstract, the definite over the vague and the distinct over the uncertain. Although concrete writing is crisp, it doesn’t need to seem stilted; concrete writing uses words that paint pictures for the reader, which helps make facts, products, people and places more realistic and memorable. Concrete writing is creative because it shows the reader what is happening rather than just telling them. Concrete language avoids generalities (including clichés), steering clear from general nouns and pronouns that can easily confuse the reader. Granted, concrete writing takes more time and effort than general or abstract writing, but the rewards are worth it. Good writers deliberately steer away from generalities, spending the extra time to make their writing more concrete and authentic. Concreteness favors active, descriptive verbs and modifiers over words that are abstract or passive.
- Correctness: Grammar, sentence structure, spelling, and other problems distract from writing. Read all writing tips and style information on http://4rvpublishing.com/4rv-style--info.php):
- Coherency: The writing makes sense, is understandable to the reader. The plot progresses logically without holes or unbelievable changes. The characters are consistent. The setting fits without taking over the plot. Everything written moves the plot forward or adds to characterization.
- Completeness: Remember
the Ws of writing: Who, Where, What, Why, Where, When and How? Before you
start writing, you should know where you want to go, how you plan to get
there, why you want to write in the first place, and why anyone else (e.g.
potential readers) would want to follow you. You want to cover
everything needed for readers to understand what you mean.
Research: Research is important with both nonfiction and fiction.
- Courtesy: Courteous writing applies to nonfiction writing as well as to fiction. A writer needs not to be preachy or demanding. A writer shouldn’t treat the reader as if he were stupid.
8. Character: In fiction, writers need to watch that their “people” and/or other characters remain “in character” and don’t suddenly behave in a way that confuses the reader. In an effort to be entertaining and exciting, a budding author might write scenes where professional people are swearing and fighting, throwing punches and using language that’s completely out of character for them. Be sure behavior, speech, actions, and reactions are believable.
length for which writings?
words for different genre
Amazingly, many writers have
no idea how long what they are writing should be -- a picture book, a chapter
book, a young adult, a short story, a novelette, a novel.
Let's look at some
information involving the length of writing, starting with children's books
Picture books:Traditionally, picture books (also called "picture story books") are 24 - 34-page books for ages 4-8 (this age may vary slightly by publisher). Manuscripts are up to 1500 words, with 1000 words being the average length. Plots are simple (no sub-plots or complicated twists) with one main character who embodies the child's emotions and concerns, written from a child's perspective/ viewpoint. The illustrations (on every page or every other page) play as great a role as the text in telling the story. Occasionally a picture book will exceed 1500 words; this is usually geared toward the upper end of the age spectrum. Nonfiction in the picture book format can go up to age 10, 48 pages in length, or up to about 2000 words of text. 4RV prefers 1000 or less for a picture book geared for the lower ages.
Early picture books: A term for picture books geared toward the lower
end of the 4-8 age range.
Easy readers: Also called "easy-to-read", these books are for
children starting to read on their own (age 6-8). They have color
illustrations, sometimes black and white illustrations, on every page like a
picture book, but the format is more "grown-up" -- smaller trim size,
sometimes broken into short chapters. The length varies greatly by publisher;
the books can be 32-64 pages long, with 200-1500 words of text, occasionally
going up to 2000 words. The stories are told mainly through action and
dialogue, in grammatically simple sentences (one idea per sentence). Books
average 2-5 sentences per page.
Transition books: Sometimes called "early chapter books" for ages 6-9, they bridge the gap between easy readers and chapter books. Written like easy readers in style, transition books are longer (manuscripts are about 30 - 45 pages long, broken into 2-3 page chapters), books have a smaller trim size with black-and-white illustrations every few pages.
Chapter books: For ages 7-10, these books are 45-60 manuscript pages long, broken into 3-4 page chapters. Stories are meatier than transition books, though still contain a lot of action. The sentences can be a bit more complex, but paragraphs are still short (2-4 sentences is average). Chapters often end in the middle of a scene to keep the reader turning the pages.
Middle grade: This is the golden age of reading for many children, ages 8-12. Manuscripts suddenly get longer (100-150 pages), stories more complex (sub-plots involving secondary characters are woven through the story) and themes more sophisticated. Kids get hooked on characters at this age, which explains the popularity of series with 20 or more books involving the same cast. Fiction genres range from contemporary to historical to science fiction/fantasy; nonfiction includes biographies, science, history and multicultural topics.
Young adult: For ages 12 and up, these manuscripts are 130 to about 200 pages long. Plots can be complex with several major characters, though one character should emerge as the focus of the book. Themes should be relevant to the problems and struggles of today's teenagers, regardless of the genre. A new age category (10-14 often called Tween Books) is emerging, especially with young adult nonfiction. These books are slightly shorter than the 12 and up category, and topics (both fiction and nonfiction) are appropriate for children who have outgrown middle grade but aren't yet ready for the themes (fiction) or who aren't studying the subjects (nonfiction) of high school readers.
Now, let's look at longer writings, for perhaps older readers and adults:
Often the question is
asked, "How long should a novel be?" Also people want to know how
many words or pages a novella should be, how many a novelette is, how many for
a short story. I found varying lengths advised, but the main number of words
are listed below, and a page contains approximately 250 words.
Let's start with the shorter writing, the short story, which can be up to 20,000 words in length according to Dictionary of LaborLawTalk. The article also broke the figures down by three countries: in the U.S. up to 10,000 words; in the U.K. up to 5,000; and in Australia up to 3,500. All sources agree that a short story should be at least 1,000 words.
A novelette, has 7,500 to 17,500 words, but that writing form isn't mentioned much. It often is considered a "long" short story.
According to Wikpedia, an online encyclopedia, a novella contains 20,000 to 40,000 words. The dictionary cited above states that novellas are 17,500 to 40,000 words.
Novels, therefore, are writings above 40,000 words. In the past, novels were much longer than that, averaging 150,000 to 200,000 words. Now, they average around 100,000 words, but they can be longer.
The best way to know how long to make a work is to write until it is finished, then delete redundancies and padding. If you, as a writer, know where you want to be published, check the guidelines for that publisher for the length desired. If you are entering a contest, abide by the guidelines for that contest.
Acquisition and Lead Editors (authors also need to know)
Here are some guidelines (rules) when evaluating a manuscript, no matter what genre, and which we expect to find in edited/finished manuscripts.
manuscript must be well-written, interesting, with back story and details woven
into the story or factual account, not dumped on the
reader in large clumps. The reader's interest must be caught from the beginning and kept throughout.
shows. Also passive voice should be avoided as much as possible (had, has, or had as helping verbs). Writers need to use action verbs most of the
time, especially strong action verbs. Yes, sometimes passive voice is needed; sometimes state-of-being verbs must be used; but the majority of
the time, active voice and strong action verbs must be used.
3. The manuscript should have few, if any, grammatical errors such as misspelled words, incorrect pronoun usage, poor sentence structure,
wrong or missing punctuation, etc. Of course we all have some mistakes, but before anything is submitted, most of the typos and errors should
be gone. Before anything is sent to be formatted, few problems should exist.
4. If a large amount of editing is necessary, we don’t want the manuscript. We don’t want simply potential; we want to see potential used already.
Once a contract is issued, the lead editor needs to help the author bring the manuscript to the accepted level of quality, polished and fine-tuned.
5. The manuscript must have clarity, comprehension, and coherence. Clarity, the story or information must be clear. Comprehension, the reader
can and does understand what is happening without having to do much, if any, re-reading. Coherence, the manuscript must make sense in all
ways, including time lines.
6. We want a manuscript with the WOW factor. We want unique, un-pat manuscripts. Of course no new ideas exist, but we want the treatment to
be different, not just another re-telling or re-showing. The manuscript/the writing must make the reader care.
7. Acquisition editors, when
you send an evaluation to the president, vice-president, and head of the
editorial department, be sure to give at
least one good quality found and whatever the author should improve. You don’t give a complete edit, but do tell why we should or shouldn’t
accept the submission, which also gives the author beginning areas for improvement.
8. When a final/clean manuscript is sent by the lead editor/author for a final proof read, few, if any, problems should be found.
We have a
style manual found above, which all editorial interns, established editors,
proof readers, and authors should have on hand and always use.
After work is under contract:
1. Lead editor and author work on edits and revisions with a Cc to chief editor and president on each email. Both are to work as a team to better the book. Editors give suggestions, but authors are to revise.
editing between author and lead editor is finished, chief editor sends manuscript
to president, who passes it to designer, who formats and organizes
illustrators and adds text for picture books. Once the book is formatted,
author, and editors do copy edits and send to designer.
NOTE: Author or lead editor MUST have a clean fresh document ready for chief editor, without any editing marks or notations, no added or missing elements. If extra work and wasted time results from editor not providing a clean copy, author will be charged $10 per layout page that has to be re-worked. Each occurrence by the same author will result in higher charges.
3. Once formatting and copy editing are finished, designer sends PDF proof to publisher, chief editor, lead editor, author, and illustrator, if there is one. All proof the work and send errors found to designer, as designer requests. After the team (all editors involved, author, and illustrator) is pleased, a final PDF is sent to the chief editor and author for approval. Any changes instigated by the author after the approval of the PDF proof will be done only if the author pays for changes. Author must be sure the PDF has no errors, doesn’t need any additions, and is exactly as the author wants.
4. After final PDFs are distilled and prepared, the files for interior and cover are sent to the president who uploads for printer with needed information for printer and distributor.
President also posts title and ISBN on Bowker site.
5. If the printer sends notice that something is wrong with files, president passes the notice to person responsible for fixing the problem(s). New files then have to be prepared and reloaded.
6. When files are approved by printer, printer sends a proof to president, who then approves or hits the ceiling. Just partially kidding about hitting the ceiling. If there is a problem, then files have to be redone and reloaded and costs more money.
Reports/bookkeeping: (president does the following until an accountant is added to staff)
1. Records are kept for general expenses, book production expenses, postage/shipping expenses, income, royalty for authors, illustrators, cover artists, and any others receiving royalty as compensation. At present most records are kept as charts on president's computer.
2. W-9 forms are used to do IRS forms, 1099-Miscellaneous Income for current year and summary (need to find form number) which must go to royalty receivers by February 15, and summary to IRS by that date.
3. Business income tax reports must be sent to IRS by April 15.
4. Bi-yearly or yearly
reports are sent to all authors, illustrators, designers, etc. at least three
months after the end of the period. Ingram doesn't send royalty for up to four
months after sales. Royalty is paid on what 4RV receives for sales, less fees. Bi-yearly
periods end June 30 and December 31. Yearly periods end December 31.
5. Checks are sent for royalty amounts of $25 or more. Royalties accumulate until $25 is reached and then sent at the next report time. Report is sent with check by mail or through PayPal. Reports without payment are sent as email attachments.
tax reports are submitted twice a year. For periods January through May,
submitted in June. For periods June through December, submitted in January. Authors, artists, editors, and any staff receiving royalties or other payments must handle their own taxes.
Pricing and Distribution:
pay Ingram to distribute our books, since that is the distributor that most
bookstores, libraries, online book sellers, and schools go through
for books. Plus, we have to give them a 50-55% discount on the retail price (which is why the retail on the 4RV website is a bit lower than that
retail price elsewhere – no 55% discount). We pay royalty on what we receive from Ingram or from other sources.
is based on the length of the book, whether it is in color or not, and what has
to be charged to allow us to have a few pennies to cover
costs and royalties. We do not get to decide, only adjust to the price of printing and discounts.
The cover of a book and 3 illustrations (as chosen by the publisher, art director, and artist) from an illustrated book may be used publicly.
Blog, website, social media: authors under contract are expected to have a blog, a website, and be on Facebook at least.
This doesn't cover each and every detail, but gives an overall view of what happens in the company. The style book part of the manual deals with what 4RV expects in writing, which may vary from other companies and uses.