Common Writing Mistakes

Most books aren't rejected because the stories are"bad." They're rejected because they're not "ready toread." In short, minor stuff like typos, grammar,spelling, etc.

I don't mean places where we, as authors,deliberately break the rules. Those are fine. That'spart of our job. Language always changes with use,and we can help it on its way. No, I'm referring toplaces where someone just plain didn't learn the ruleor got confused or overlooked it during theself-edits.

I started editing novels in 2001. Looking back at myexperiences, I feel like sharing the most commonmistakes I've seen. If you'll go through yourmanuscript and fix these before you submit it to apublisher, your odds of publication will increasedramatically.

Once you've found a publisher who publishes what youwrite, you want to present yourself in the best waypossible. Submitting an unedited manuscript is a bitlike going to a job interview wearing a purpleMohawk, no shoes, torn jeans, and a dirty T-shirt.Your resume may be perfect, and your qualificationsimpeccable, but something tells me you won't get thejob.

The publisher is investing a lot in every book itaccepts. E-publishers tend to invest loads of time,and print publishers tend to invest an advertisingbudget and the cost of carrying an inventory. Why askthem to invest hours and days of editing time as well?If the publisher gets two or three or ten nearlyidentical books, you want yours to be the onerequiring the least editing.

The first thing you need to do, and I hope you'vealready done it, is use the spelling and grammarcheckers in your word processor. This will catch manyof the "common mistakes" on my list. But I've beenasked to edit many books where the author obviouslydidn't do this, and I confess that I may well havebeen lazy and let a couple of mine get to my editorsunchecked. Bad Michael!

Here's a list of the mistakes I see most often.

* Dialogue where everyone speaks in perfect Englishand never violates any of the bullet points below.Okay, I made that up. That's not really a commonproblem at all. But I have seen it, and it's aterrible thing.

* It's is a contraction for "it is" and its ispossessive.

* Who's is a contraction for "who is" and whose ispossessive.

* You're is a contraction for "you are" and your ispossessive.

* They're is a contraction for "they are," there is aplace, their is possessive.

* There's is a contraction for "there is" and theirsis possessive.

* If you've been paying attention to the aboveexamples, you've noticed that possessive pronounsnever use apostrophes. Its, whose, your, yours,their, theirs...

* Let's is a contraction for "let us."

* When making a word plural by adding an s, don't usean apostrophe. (The cats are asleep.)

* When making a word possessive by adding an s, usean apostrophe. (The cat's bowl is empty.)

* A bath is a noun, what you take. Bathe is a verb,the action you do when taking or giving a bath.

* A breath is a noun, what you take. Breathe is averb, the action you do when taking a breath.

* You wear clothes. When you put them on, you clotheyourself. They are made of cloth.

* Whenever you read a sentence with the word "that,"ask yourself if you can delete that word and stillachieve clarity. If so, kill it. The same can be saidof all sentences. If you can delete a word withoutchanging the meaning or sacrificing clarity, do it."And then" is a phrase worth using your wordprocessor's search feature to look for.

* Keep an eye on verb tenses. "He pulled the pin andthrows the grenade" is not a good sentence.

* Keep an eye on making everything agree regardingsingular and plural. "My cat and my wife issleeping," "My cat sleep on the sofa," and "My wifeis a beautiful women" are not good sentences. (Iexaggerate in these examples, but you know what Imean.)

* I and me, he and him, etc. I hope no editor isrejecting any novels for this one, because I suspectthat most people get confused at times. In dialogue,do whatever the heck you want because it sounds more"natural." But for the sake of your narrative, I'lltry to explain the rule and the cheat. The ruleinvolves knowing whether your pronoun is the subjector object. When Jim Morrison of The Doors sings, "tilthe stars fall from the sky for you and I," he'smaking a good rhyme but he's using bad grammar.According to the rule, "you and I" is the object ofthe preposition "for," thus it should be "for you andme." The cheat involves pretending "you and" isn'tthere, and just instinctively knowing "for I" justdoesn't sound right. (I think only native Englishspeakers can use my cheat. For the record, I havegreat admiration for authors writing in languagesthat aren't their native tongues.)

* Should of, would of, could of. This one can make methrow things. It's wrong! What you mean is shouldhave, would have, could have. Or maybe you mean thecontractions. Should've, would've, could've. Andmaybe 've sounds a bit like of. But it's not! Of isnot a verb. Not now, not ever.

* More, shorter sentences are better. Always. Don'task a single sentence to do too much work or advancethe action too much, because then you've got lots ofwords scattered about like "that" and "however" and"because" and "or" and "as" and "and" and "while,"much like this rather pathetic excuse for a sentenceright here.

* On a similar (exaggerated) note: "He laughed awicked laugh as he kicked Ralphie in the face whilehe aimed the gun at Lerod and pulled the trigger andthen laughed maniacally as Lerod twisted in agonybecause of the bullet that burned through his faceand splattered his brains against the wall and madethe wall look like an overcooked lasagne or anabstract painting." Now tell me this sentence isn'ttrying to do too much.

* Too means also, two is a number, to is apreposition.

* He said/she said. Use those only when necessary toestablish who's speaking. They distract the reader,pulling him out of the story and saying, "Hey look,you're reading a book." Ideally, within the contextof the dialogue, we know who's talking just by thestyle or the ideas. When a new speaker arrives on thescene, identify him or her immediately. Beyond that,keep it to a minimum. Oh yeah, and give every speakerhis/her own paragraph.

* Billy-Bob smiled his most winning smile and said,"What's a nice girl like you doing in a place likethis?" I don't like this. Use two shorter sentencesin the same paragraph. Billy-Bob smiled his mostwinning smile. "What's a nice girl like you doing ina place like this?" Same effect, fewer words, nodialogue tag (he said).

* In the previous example, I don't like "smiled hismost winning smile," because it's redundant and alsocliched. Please, if you find yourself writingsomething like that, try to find a better way toexpress it before you just give up and leave it likeit is. During the self-edit, I mean, not during theinitial writing.

* "The glow-in-the-dark poster of Jesus glowed in thedark." This editor won't let that one go. Much tooredundant, and it appeared in a published novel.

* Lie is what you do when you lie down on the bed,lay is what you do to another object that you lay onthe table. Just to confuse matters, the past tense oflie is lay. Whenever I hit a lay/lie word in reading,I stop and think. Do that when you self-edit. (Note:Don't fix this one in dialogue unless your characteris quite well-educated, because most people say itwrong. I do.)

* Beware of the dangling modifier. "Rushing into theroom, the exploding bombs dropped seven of thesoldiers." Wait a minute! The bombs didn't rush intothe room. The soldiers did. To get all technicalabout it, the first part is the "dependent clause,"and it must have the same subject as the "independentclause" which follows. Otherwise it's amateur,distracting, and a real pain for your poor overworkededitor.

* If you are able (many readers are not), keep an eyeout for missing periods, weird commas, closingquotes, opening quotes, etc. When I read a book, beit an ebook or a printed book, I can't help but spotevery single one that's missing. They slap me upsidethe head, which makes me a great editor but a lousyreader. If you're like me, use that to youradvantage. If not, that's what editors are for!

Copyright 2005, Michael LaRocca

Michael LaRocca's website at waschosen by WRITER'S DIGEST as one of The 101 Best WebsitesFor Writers in 2001 and 2002. His response was to throw itout and start over again because he's insane. He teachesEnglish at a university in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province,China, and publishes the free weekly newsletter WHO MOVEDMY RICE?

Bird by Bird
It's easy to feel overwhelmed by marketing. First, there's so much to learn: What works? What's a waste of your time? Where should you invest your energy and money?Then you have to prioritize: Where should you start? What's the ONE THING that, if you don't do anything else for a while, is your best first step?Next, you've got to figure out how to get it all done.
7 Reference Books for Your Desk
I hate to admit this, but I rarely get an original idea. That's bad for a writer.
Create Confidence With Your Writing
Whether you are writing a magazine article, composing a press release, or editing the sales copy on your website, the end goal is always the same - to influence the thinking, and probably actions, of other human beings. To do that, your writing must instill confidence in a mind that is inclined to doubt you.
Get Creative In The Great Outdoors
Summer's here and the time is write for dancing in the streets..
How to Relax Your Writing
Q. My writing sounds stiff and stilted.
Basic Writing Tips - Some Controversial, All Correct
As a previous article ("Making Better Word Choices - 4 Examples") explained, writers can take steps to prevent simple, and common, errors from degrading their writing. Five areas of writing that cause authors problems are discussed in this article.
Extreme Research: 10 Snappy Rules For Success
So you want to learn to research well, and not waste any time. Let's do it.
Dont Make This Huge Writing Mistake!
You can create a great headline, a dynamic first sentence, and a brilliant lead paragraph. But if you can't hold readers during those middle paragraphs, they'll never see your conclusion.
Six Tips for Creating More Lifelike Story Characters
Working on my first humorous novel, I started with a single character. I followed suggestions in writers' reference books for developing story characters.
Discover the Writer Hiding Inside You
Has the thought run across you mind that you might want to write a column or two? Maybe you thought about writing your own material for your company newsletter. Maybe someone asked you to share your expertise with others by writing a how-to paper.
How To Write Cover Letters That Work
Sometimes there is confusion about the exact meaning of theterm "cover letter".That's because when most people use that term, they don'trealize that there are two main types of cover letters.
What Nationally Published Columnist, Cindy Laferle Has To Say About Writing & Journalism
Today Norm Goldman, Editor of sketchandtravel and bookpleasures is honored to have as a guest, the nationally published newspaper columnist and author, Cindy LaFerle. Cindy recently published a book entitled, Writing Home, a collection of essays focusing on home, family and motherhood.
10 Ways to Shatter Writers Block
1. Use Logic: Check for External PressuresAre you under physical or emotional stress? Is your diet lacking? Do you need more sleep, or more restful sleep? Would a visit to the doctor be in order before you start beating yourself up about your inability to concentrate?2.
How to Create Stories that Sizzle
How to Start Your Story with a BangThe purpose of creating a story is to create a world that will draw the reader away from their own. In order to do this one must create suspense, drama and mystery.
Story Building with Imagination
In the words of Aristotle, "happiness is self contentedness helping to make children deeply and quietly glad that they are who they are, and gives them a priceless legacy: the strength to meet life's stresses and the courage to become committed, responsible, productive, creative, and fully human adults..
First Priority
No matter what you are writing, the first priority is write the first draft.Most writers procrastinate.
In Praise of Personal Pronouns
Rudolph Flesch, a pioneering advocate of readability, put great stock in the liveliness of the written word.One way of getting that liveliness into our writing, he said, is to use the personal pronouns: you, me, I, we, us, he, she, him, her, and they.
A Writers Life
Ever wonder what an author's life is like? What that breathing, sweating, hungry, weary, bona fide guy does when he's not at the keyboard? How does his "day job" affect his writing? When he's mowing the lawn, grocery shopping, or babysitting grandchildren - what goes through his mind? Is he sucking up every sensation as he moves through his day, tucking tidbits away for a future piece? Or, does he simply journey through life, just - doing - these things?How do I define myself? Am I Aaron Paul Lazar, with the obligatory middle name, author of the LeGarde Mystery Series? Sometimes. At book signings, indeed.
Message to Online Writers: Dont Give Up On A Good Idea
The writing community is a strong one, with many new "members" joining daily. All theser writers are finding or looking for their particular niches.
Writing For Free: When & When Not to Do It!
Right off the bat, I want to say that there is no right or wrong answer to this topic. A lot depends on your end goal - to get a job, garner publicity, build a portfolio, etc.

Home | Articles Site Map