Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Grammar Rules: Create First, Edit Second

The best advise I can give regarding grammar is don't let it consume you. Sit down in front of your computer or pick up a pen and writing pad and start creating. Don't worry about grammar or where to stick commas, this isn't the stage to allow yourself to be distracted. Write whatever you want, let it flow from you to the page. Then, and only then, once you've finished put down that pen or save your Word document. Get up and go make a cup of tea, or dance around the house (don't laugh, I actually have done this). Allow fifteen minutes or so to clear your head. Return to your written piece and start editing it—check your grammar and punctuation. Look up any word you're unsure of in an approved good quality dictionary for your country. Once you think the piece is at its best, give it to someone you trust to proofread. It doesn't matter if it's a family member, friend, neighbor, work colleague or professional editor. Listen to their comments regarding the content and understand they're trying to help. They are giving their points of view, perhaps covering an area you haven't considered. Pay attention to what they question. Are they questioning it because they are having trouble understanding? Perhaps it's not clear enough; if so, then consider other ways of wording it. If they point out a word or punctuation mark that seems inappropriate—look it up!

If your goal is to have your work published, then you have to be professional—that means your attitude and your work. You've probably heard this many times, but it is important. If you were applying for a job, you'd make sure your résumé was impressive before sending it anywhere. Sending your piece to a publisher works the same way. You're competing against all those other writers. Don't give up; hard work and dedication will get you there, but be prepared for the long haul. Everybody wants their dreams to come today, but the most important dreams take time. And when those dreams start to turn into reality—you'll know you are on your way. So let's cover some of those pesky grammar and punctuation queries here over time to help make your pieces stand out and scream—I'm a professional, hire me!

Let’s start with the mighty full stop (or period, or dot, or whatever you like to call them). Such a small mark and it has an important role. It tells us when to stop and when to start. In a group of three it indicates an interruption in speech. And we’d be lost if we didn’t include them in web site and email addresses.

A single full stop ends a sentence and indicates a new sentence. One space follows the full stop. Back in the typewriting days, two spaces was considered the normal rule. Now with our speedy computers that can save and retrieve pages and pages at a click of the button, the need for two spaces no longer applies.

A series of three dots, or ellipsis points, shows a word or words are missing from a quote. Let’s imagine we are listening to a speaker try to emphasize the importance of drafting and editing a manuscript:

“After you write your story, you need to rewrite it and rewrite it, edit it and edit it and edit it for it to stand a chance of publication.”

The speaker does get the message across clearly, and could quite possibly scare the audience. But we might not want to use the entire quote, or scare anyone from writing, so we might end up with something like this:

“After you write your story, you need to rewrite it … and edit it for it to stand a chance of publication.”

The point is still clear, but a little less frightening and it reads better.

It can also indicate an unfinished sentence displayed as dialogue.


“But I told you, I never …”
“You told me nothing!”

The first person has more to say but has been interrupted by the second person cutting in. Notice how there are only three dots at the end of the first line. Never add another full stop even if it is at the end. The only punctuation marks that can precede or follow an ellipsis are question marks, exclamation marks, and as seen in the first line, quotation marks.

Should a space be left on either side of an ellipsis? That depends on where you are, and where the document is intended. For example, spaces on either side of the ellipsis are omitted for publications with space restrictions such as newspapers. Check the style manual for your area or the house style of the intended publication.

That’s enough theory for now, you’re probably anxious to get back to creating your next masterpiece. Happy writing!

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