Monday, March 30

Day Thirty: Fix Any Grammatical Errors

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Welcome to Day Thirty of Fiction University’s Month-Long Revision Workshop. Over the last month we’ve been working on the larger revision issues and ignoring the specifics of the text (in most cases). Our stories are now solid, our structure and various story arcs are sound, and our scenes flow smoothly from one idea to the next. The novel is “done,” and we feel comfortable that it’s good and well-written. Now it’s time to polish our literary jewels until they shine, so roll up those sleeves and let’s get into the nitty gritty of the individual word choices.

As we reach the final day of the serious polishing, it’s time to put on our copy editor hats and review the manuscript with a critical eye.

Today, we’re looking for grammatical errors.

Considering there are entire book series out there that deal with grammar, I obviously won’t be listing everything possible here. This session is to look for the most common grammar goofs that slip in during early drafts.

If grammar is a weak area for you, perhaps do a more in depth proofing of your manuscript with a grammar guru, a handy grammar book, or your favorite online grammar site.

1. Correct Any Faulty Parallelisms

Faulty parallelisms are when a series of verbs, clauses, or nouns don’t line up. For example: “She draped herself in a silk wrap, a string of pearls, and leather boots.” Leather boots don’t drape, so they don’t fit the sentence construction.

2. Fix Any Comma Splices

Comma splices are when two independent clauses are joined by a comma instead of an appropriate conjunction. For example: Bob was afraid of zombies, he set traps for them everyday (incorrect) vs Bob was afraid of zombies, and he set traps for them every day (correct) or Bob was afraid of zombies. He set traps for them every day (correct).

3. Be Consistent With Serial Commas

A serial comma (also called the Oxford comma) is when you use a comma before the final conjunction in a list of three or more items. For example: Bob ran into zombies, hunters, and his ex-wife vs Bob ran into zombies, hunters and his ex-wife. Both styles are used, so it’s a matter of personal preference. Pick a style and stick with it.

4. Correct I vs Me

This one is commonly misused, as most people would automatically say Bob and I, when Bob and me might be correct. Easy trick to test if you need I or me: Reduce the sentence to just the I part. For example: Bob and I went to the store = I went to the store. I is the correct usage. Bob went to the store with Jane and I = Bob went to the store with I. Me would be the correct usage here.

5. Fix Incorrect Apostrophes

Most of the goofs here will likely be incorrect possessives or plurals. If you have the stamina for it, try checking for ’s and s’ and fix anything not used properly. For example: John’s hat, Bob’s shotgun, the sisters’ house (correct) vs Johns hat, Bobs shotgun, the sisters house (incorrect). There were zombie’s everywhere (incorrect) vs There were zombies everywhere (correct).

6. Fix Incorrect Contractions

Make sure your contractions are written correctly. Most common goof here is using of instead of ‘ve. For example: Could of (incorrect) vs could’ve or could have (correct).

7. Fix Incorrect Pronouns

Look over your pronouns and make sure you’re using the right one: he vs him, she vs her. For example: Bob shoots as well as she (correct) vs Bob shoots as well as her (incorrect). A trick here, is to finish the sentence. Bob shoots as well as she does vs Bob shoots as well as her does. There are more potential pronoun goofs than I can mention here, so if this is a weak area for you, look into this more on your own.

If you need a little extra help with your grammar, try Fiction University faculty Marcy Kennedy's Grammar for Fiction Writers.
This wraps up Stage Five. At the end of today’s session, we should have corrected any grammar goofs and polished our drafts to a professional shine. Tomorrow, we’ll start the final stage and last day of the workshop.

Tomorrow: Do a Final Read Through

New to the At-Home Workshop? Find the current list of revision steps and earlier prep work on the introductory page.
Looking for tips on revising your novel? Check out my book Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, a series of self-guided workshops that help you revise your manuscript into a finished novel. Still working on your idea? Then try my just-released Planning Your Novel Workbook

A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.

Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, and the upcoming Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).  

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  1. Excellent tips, as always, Janice! And you have a talent for explaining points clearly and succinctly.