Grammar

When Trying to Sound Intelligent Backfires

So, I’m at a writers’ conference—a professional setting, yes? With folks who are clearly well educated, especially about the use of words, yes?–and this is what I hear: “Just give Jim and I a call, and we’ll talk it over.”

Cringe.

Then came a recent commercial on TV, where a supposed doctor was saying, “This product has been tested by myself and others in the medical field.” Good grief. I shut off the TV and escaped to a published book, where I’d surely find respite from the rotten use of language, only to find this awaiting me: “…the choices which he had made would come back to haunt him.”

Double cringe.

And don’t even get me started on those signs in grocery stores that say the express lane is for “10 items or less.”

AARRGGHH!

Okay, yes, I know you can’t edit speech. And expecting grocery store owners to know proper grammar is a bit pie-in-the-sky. But here’s the deal: we writers are surrounded by the improper use of the English language. And while walking around correcting the errors people make in speech will garner you far more resentment than gratitude, I do think we need to be aware enough to (a) use these terms correctly in our writing and speech and (b) correct improper usage in our personal sphere of influence, such as with our kids or those who consider us mentors of any kind. Or the folks who read what we write. Not because we’re the grammar police or want to show others how very intelligent we are, but because we’re wordsmiths. And because, Twitter and texts notwithstanding, using language well still matters. And trying to sound intelligent only works when use language correctly.

Next week, I’ll give you some guidelines that I keep in mind (not, you will notice, which I keep in mind) as a wordsmith. But for now, I want to hear from you, fellow wordsmiths, about two things:

First, if you have elements of English that cause you grief. Does the use of which/that stymie you? Are you confused (as I confess I still am at times) as to whether something is laying or lying? Let me know and if it’s something I’m not already addressing next week, I’ll suss out simple tricks to help.

Second, what language or grammar gaffes set your teeth on edge? I’m guessing I’m not the only one bothered by these kinds of things.

Ready? Set. Go!

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Wordsmiths of the World, Unite!

Did you know you’re a wordsmith? If you’re a writer, you are. A wordsmith is defined by Webster’s as a “craftsman or artist whose medium is words.” That, my friends, is you. Which is why I’m coming to you today and asking you to have mercy on your readers. (Yes, …

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Editing Etiquette

Writers and editors have a love-hate relationship. Okay, sometimes it can feel like a hate-hate relationship. Writers all know they need to be edited, but getting the manuscript back with those edits can be more painful than passing a kidney stone. And editors know they need to respect the author’s …

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Chapters: How Long is Too Long?

I’ve had a number of people ask me lately how long their chapters should be. My answer has been: “As long as they need to be.” Now, it would be nice if I could give folks the “industry-standard” answer: “Chapters should be no less than xx and no longer than …

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When Editorial Errors Matter

by Steve Laube

Writers make mistakes. It happens. Often an editor’s job is to be the safety net and catch those tidbits that find their way into an early draft of a manuscript for any number of reasons.

The simplicity of “cut & paste” has created more opportunity for error than ever before. I’ve seen half sentences left in their original place because the writer failed to cut and paste accurately. Many books evolve over time with additional research or new thoughts. Errors can creep in this way. I’ve seen an author actually contradict himself between chapters. There are too many details to keep straight so the writer overlooks the inconsequential trusting the editor to fix things. I remember talking to a Bethany House editor who revealed that an author accidently brought a character back to life, forgetting that the character had died earlier in the story.

None of the above examples ever found their way into the final edition of the book and the public never knew the error was made. An editor caught it and fixed it. That is why errors found in a finished and published book are so jarring.

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Ancient Wisdom from an Ancient Editor

by Steve Laube

I came across a remarkable section in a book written around 124 B.C. The editor of the book wrote the following preface to help the reader understand his methodology and purpose. It shows the concern a good editor has for the ultimate reader. His job was to abridge a massive five volume work into an abbreviated 16,00 word document. Can anyone tell me where this comes from and the name of the editor? (Without googling the text!) I’ll reveal the answer in the comments later in the day.

The number of details and the bulk of material can be overwhelming for anyone who wants to read an account of the events. But I have attempted to simplify it for all readers; those who read for sheer pleasure will find enjoyment and those who want to memorize the facts will not find it difficult.

Writing such a summary is a difficult task, demanding hard work and sleepless nights. It is as difficult as preparing a banquet that people of different tastes will enjoy. But I am happy to undergo this hardship in order to please my readers. I will leave the matter of details to the original author and attempt to give only a summary of the events.

I am not the builder of a new house who is concerned with every detail of the structure, but simply a painter whose only concern is to make the house look attractive. The historian must master his subject, examine every detail, and then explain it carefully, but whoever is merely writing a summary should be permitted to give a brief account without going into a detailed discussion. So then, without any further comment, I will begin my story. It would be foolish to write such a long introduction that the story itself would have to be cut short.

Note a few pearls of eternal wisdom from this ancient editor:

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The Writer as Editor

As we saw in my post last week, there are any number of ways a manuscript can go wrong. Hard enough to write a novel, but then to have to dig in and edit it yourself? That’s especially tough. So here are some tips to help you be the best editor you can be.

Don’t let the editor out to play too soon

Writing and editing are very different functions for the brain. Writing is a creative process; editing, logical and detail-oriented. When writing, we need to let ourselves forget the rules and coax the story to life. When editing, we must embrace the rules as a solid foundation to help us strengthen what’s landed on the page. I’ve seen so many writers almost drive themselves crazy by trying to edit as they write, which ends up making them second-guess everything. And freezes the story in its tracks.

Puts me in mind of one of my favorite pens (pictured below). It’s a two-tip pen—black ink at one end, red at the other. The body of the pen is made of two colors of wood, one with black tones, one with red. One end for writing, the other for editing. The pen works great—so long as I only use one end at a time! Trying to edit and write at the same time would be like grabbing the pen at both ends: totally ineffectual.

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Editing 101 – Your Turn

I’ve had a number of writers ask me if I can show an edited page from a manuscript, so they can learn from it. So that seems a fun way to start out the New Year. But what I want to do is let YOU take a turn as an editor first. So here, for your editing pleasure, is something I wrote just for this occasion. Print this out, put on your editing hat, and go for it. I’ll post the edited text next week, so we can compare and discuss!

__________

Sammy said it was a long time since he seen Rufus. Said the ol’ dawg shoulda been home long time ago. Said somethin’ musta happent to the mutt and said it was my fault fer bein’ sew stupid and not tyin’ him up wh’n I shoulda. “Gilly, you no good” he says to me. Like he’s so good and special.

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