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I’m calling it

Right, so I’ve spent several weeks now going through and editing and editing and editing my manuscript, and… I’m calling it.

What? No, not that way. “I’m sure the manuscript could’ve been something if it had held on a bit longer, but, uh… oh well. Time of death: 17:14.”

AMC EKG

No flatline, no meeeeep. Not at all. It’s alive and kicking. It’s just that it has this annoying habit of, well, looking almost done. I wanted it to be just done, without the almost, but it looks as though every time I give it another readover, it reveals a few more slight flaws here and there. *Sigh*. Maybe that’s just the perfectionist in me… but if so, why can’t that know-it-all just find all those flaws the first time?!?

So, since I am now acutely aware that I won’t get everything perfect, I’m calling it. Calling it “done”.

Look up done in the dictionary in a few months, when my request comes through. By then, they will have changed it to mean the same thing as almost done. Soft of like a reverse “mostly harmless”, for those who get the reference.

‘Sides, it’s nearly Christmas. I wanted to be done by Christmas. (That’s reasonable… right?)

I wanted to send out my shiny new manuscript before Christmas to a few wonderful people who’ve volunteered (or been volunteered, by yours truly) to beta-read it. I’m sure they’ll find even more to correct… So, some final formatting tomorrow (no more corrections for now, though!), and then it’s off to see the world. Well, meta-digi-phorically (yes, that’s a word) speaking. Some small parts of the world, granted, but… nevertheless. Early days. (Now stop picking on my analogy.)

And while I’m at it: Merry Christmas! (Because at the rate I’m going, I doubt I’ll be posting again before the New Year.)

Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb – Errata

As mentioned in my review of Fool’s Quest, the second part of Robin Hobb’s wonderful Fitz and the Fool trilogy, the number of errors in this book is much lower compared to Book 1, where the lack of editing was quite ridiculous. This time around, there were both far fewer errors and the errors were less severe, less able to rip me out of my immersion while reading through its 739 pages (UK large paperback version – is that what’s called “trade paperback”?).

Fool's Quest - Errata

As for Book 1, I’ll use the same categories “Error”, “Note”, and “Guess”, as well as these abbreviated ones (though not all categories make an appearance here):

Cons. = Consistency
Conv. = Convention
Gr. = Grammar
Punct. = Punctuation
Rep. = Repetition
Sp. = Spelling
Sugg. = Suggestion

Page Type Correction/Comment
5 Gr. “[…] I still knew him in the important ways, the one that went beyond trivial facts […]” – Should be the ones that, since ways is plural.
5 Gr. “[…] I doubted that either of us had ever truly been children.” – Should be been a child, since either in this case needs to be treated as singular, not plural (proximity rule doesn’t apply here).
9 Gr. “Whoever he sent to this chamber would be discreet.” – Should be whomever, because he is the subject: He sent whom? (A few lines below that, whom is used correctly: “Alliance with whom?”)
11 Gr. “[…] evergreen boughs and brightly-coloured pennants.” – Should be brightly coloured, without the hyphen. Yes, compound adjectives are usually hyphenated, but not when the first part is an adverb ending in -ly. (See Rule 3 here.)
43 Gr. “It seemed so odd that I could recognize who the scream belonged to.” – Should be whom, of course.
143 Gr. “[…] trying not to wonder as I did so if I would use them if Chade ordered me to. If it came to that, I’d decide then […]” – Great example of whether vs if, especially because of the three ifs in that section. The second and third ones are fine, but the first one is not a condition (“if <condition> then <something>”) but an either/or case, so it should be whether.
168 Sp. “[…] almost seems to make sense some times.” – Sometimes is one word.
189 Sp. “[…] perception when they over flew a battle.” – Overfly is one word, hence it should be overflew.
357 Gr. “[…] when everyone else were as passive as cattle […]” – Everyone is singular (not “everyone are singular”), hence it should be everyone else was.
365 Guess “[…] fearing what would happen next. The Lord Chade came. He said […]” – I guess it’s not technically incorrect as such, but since I don’t believe the article the was used in front of Lord anywhere else in the book, I’m fairly certain this is a typo and should be then Lord Chade came.
391 Punct. “They are on ‘a path’ Fitz.” – (Note: I changed the original double quotes to single quotes to be consistent in my, er, quoting.) Apart from the fact that this almost looks like “scare quotes”, there needs to be a comma before Fitz.
470 Punct. “Bee had very little scent. No this was Shine’s […]” – Again, there is a comma missing: No, this was Shine’s.
508 Gr. “‘Not much further now,’ Kerf called back […]” – Should be farther, since it relates to physical distance. Watch Finding Forrester, and you won’t ever forget that rule. 😉
510 Cons. There is a consistency error on this page. First, the order in which Dwalia says they need to go through… something (won’t spoil it)… while holding hands is Dwalia, Vindeliar, Alaria, Bee, Reppin, Kerf, Shun, and finally Soula. So Alaria is supposed to take one of Bee’s hands, Reppin the other. However, in the next paragraph, Bee is between Reppin and Kerf.
541 Error “The Skill-fountains there, they say, and is hard to navigate.” – Something is wrong or missing here. I can only guess that it should be one of these: “The Skill fountains there” (without the hyphen); “The Skill fountain’s there” (missing apostrophe, i.e. a contraction of fountain and is); “The Skill-river fountains there” (which would make sense because river is mentioned in the previous sentence).
542 Cons. “[…] that Kitney meet him there, to duel with staffs and fists […]” and two paragraphs below: “When Kitney’s stave broke […]” – As a weapon, the singular is staff and the plural either staffs or staves. So it should be when Kitney’s staff broke. My guess is that someone was told to replace staffs with staves (perhaps as part of converting the US edition to the UK version?) on that page, and ended up replacing the wrong instance.
579 Cons. “Kettricken had taken Shine to hand. […] Shine blossomed in the light of the queen’s interest.” – At this point in the story, Kettricken is no longer queen.
584 Gr. “Clerres was distant, further away than […]” and one paragraph below that: “[…] those who had come furthest to Buckkeep’s port […]” – Both cases relate to physical distance, so it should be farther away and come farthest.
585 Sugg. “[…] I think it was the wise decision.” – Not technically incorrect, but I’d change it to a wise decision. If the intent is to emphasise that this decision was the wise one as opposed to the other decision being less wise, then I’d change it to the wiser decision.

So I’ve spotted only 19 corrections this time (for Book 1 it was a staggering 63, with some of them bad enough to make you scratch your head and wonder how anyone could miss that).

Maybe, if I get an ARC of Book 3, I can help eliminate all the errors (feel free to go meme-crazy in your mind at this point) for that one. 😉

Recommendation: Hire a Mercenary Proofreader (and Editor)

Things have been crazy busy at my end of the world, but I wanted to take some time to give a well-deserved shout-out to a fellow blogger whose meticulous proofreading/editing services I’ve recently had the chance to experience.

I’ve been following the blog of Thomas Weaver for quite some time now (well, just about since I started blogging myself), and have consistently enjoyed his Grammar Rants, amongst other posts. I’d like to believe that we’re similar in some respects (perfectionists, sticklers for detail, and grammar na… er, ninjas), but I can’t claim to have any seriously honed editing skills (though I did rant myself about things an editor should’ve picked up in a book written by my favourite author that I just couldn’t overlook). So, since I remembered from first browsing his site a long time ago that he was also an editor who offered a free sample of his proofreading/editing skills for up to 5000 words – and because I knew I would soon be submitting my first chapter, which therefore had to be extra polished –  I thought I’d see whether he’d be able to find any little errors I may have overlooked in my own writing. I was pretty convinced that there wouldn’t be more than a few, and that those would have been ones that crept in with recent edits to said first chapter.

Boy, was I naïve.

 

The Red Pen

Who doesn’t love editing? Oh, put your hands down… *sigh*. (Image from wikimedia commons.)

Thomas not only found a few errors that had crept in, he also managed to remind me of how inconsistent I’d become with my commas and semicolons (in more places than I’d like to admit publicly), and of my bad habit with adding a fourth dot to an ellipsis when it’s at the end of a sentence, which isn’t correct.

I did have the audacity to disagree with some of his suggested edits, and, in our interesting email conversation about several aspects of editing and grammar, rather than being a “my way or the highway” kind of guy, he was happy to agree with some of my reasoning and answer my questions about some of the finer points of… stuff.

Oh, and, as a bonus, he came up with this gem regarding ellipses that cracked me up:

Then thou must write three dots upon the page. Three shall be the number of the dots, and the number of the dots shall be three. Four dots shall thou not write, neither shall thou write two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out. Once the three dots, three being the number of the dots, be written…

It helps to know the Monty Python original to appreciate it:

So, clearly, if you’re in need of professional proofreading and/or editing, I can whole-heartedly recommend Thomas’ services. Not only will you get first-class service, you’ll also be communicating with a guy who is very approachable, who knows way more than just his commas and semicolons, and who has a great sense of humour.

You can even try out his free sample offer so you have an idea of what you’ll get for hiring him. And if you do, please tell him Amos sent you – maybe I’ll get a discount when I need more of his excellent editing skills. 😉

Excitement building about building excitement

The reason I’ve been slacking off with my blog-writing lately is that I haven’t been slacking off with my book-writing. It’s been a long time coming, but I’ve finally finished the major rewrite of the section I was, er, rewriting.

I’ve written about what had happened and what I was planning to do a while ago in The Road So Far, from finishing a manuscript to early rejections to planning to do a huge revamp of my work, and now I’m done with what I set out to do. I’ve completely transformed the story while keeping core aspects of it, constructed a “story around the story” that I think works quite well, brought in a bunch of new characters to join the reader in discovering the main storyline, woven together the pre-existing threads with new threads and the threads around them, and I think it helps to give the whole thing a sense of building up to something.

It’s taken me a fair while (I have a family, a day job, and hobbies…), and to some extent it’s been frustrating because I had to slow down from my normal “just let it happen in my head” style of writing and think more about how all the individual threads interact and make sure that the story as a whole is cohesive, that some bits don’t contradict others and that the timeline is consistent from all perspectives. I even went to the trouble of using a mind-mapping tool to plan out my timeline visually for myself, with all the little occurrences noted of where a character may say something happened “three days ago” or was planning to do something “in three days” to make sure it all matches up with what’s in my head and what everyone else says. A very different aspect to writing than what I’m used to, but it’s been an interesting exercise, and most likely one I’ll have to repeat as the series progresses beyond Book 1 (which I’m hoping it will).

Of course, as I’ve read through it all multiple times to make sure all the little details are lined up, I’ve also let my inner editor run amok and did lots of reviewing, correcting, and polishing.

I think I’d even be willing to let some people read what I’ve got so far… which is both exciting and scary.

Now that I’m done with all the “weaving”, I get to finally go back to really writing because it still needs an ending to round off the first book (much, much more material in the series is still spooking around in my head, and I’ve got over 150k words from one character’s first-person perspective already written that I can use/adapt/weave into the main story when the first book is ready to send off… hey, it’s epic fantasy). I’ve got some ideas of how it’s going to go, but the details will grow like an independent organism writhing in the back of my mind while I try to keep up with putting it down on paper screen.

At a little over 70k words, the story should need about 15-25k more to give the reader an ending that will hopefully offer some explanations, some excitement, tie up some threads while leaving others dangling to be woven into Book 2, and leave her with an aftertaste of, “Hey, that was a great story set in an interesting world. I’m looking forward to visiting again and finding out what happens there next.”

Oh Boy Oh Boy Oh Boy!

Excitement ahead! (Image: Wikimedia Commons.)

The end is so close I can smell it! I look forward to seeing where the story will take me.

Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb – Errata

As mentioned in my review of Fool’s Assassin a bit over a week ago, I thoroughly enjoyed the book, but it was quite full of errors, including little typos, grammatical mistakes, spelling mistakes, repetitions and factual errors. If you’re following my posts, you’ll know that I have a hard time reading past those, so for this book, I took it upon myself to write down all those things that nagged me. Still a great book, mind you… but I think many of these could have and in fact should have been caught by editors and proofreaders.

Fool's Assassin Errata

Some are things I’d have suggested if I were Robin Hobb’s editor or beta reader, others are plain errors. Both are things I’d like my beta readers (when I get to that stage… haven’t forgotten your offer, Suzanne!) to point out to me, because often, as the one doing the writing, you’re too close to the forest to see the trees, or too close to the blackboard to see the context, or… you get the picture.

So, below is my list of corrections of Robin Hobb’s latest book, Fool’s Assassin, in order in which they appear in the book, listing the page number in my copy (the UK large paperback version; see the review for cover photos) and using the categories “Error”, “Note”, and “Guess”, as well as these abbreviated ones:

Cons. = Consistency
Conv. = Convention
Gr. = Grammar
Punct. = Punctuation
Rep. = Repetition
Sp. = Spelling
Sugg. = Suggestion

Page Type Correction/Comment
2 Gr. “[…] do wonder, sometimes, if […]” – The if should be whether to avoid ambiguity.
5 Note Example of correct usage of whom: “On whom else […]”; also on p. 201 – I’m glad the author isn’t one of those who believes whom to be dead! Having said that, see errors below.
7 Conv. “I AM an old man.” – CAPS should be replaced by italics. There are several occurrences of this throughout; I’m guessing this was meant to be italicised later?
10 Guess “[…] guard contingent […] to rival the Queen’s Own.” – I don’t recall that the Fitz books had a “Queen’s Own” guard contingent (used as a proper noun), but could be wrong, or it could be the introduction of a new term, or accidental capitalisation of Own.
19 Rep. “Of course not!” – Patience says “of course” three times within six lines.
20 Rep. “[…] presence of all life, of course, […]” – In the paragraph directly following Patience’s above, Web says “of course” twice within two lines.
23 Gr. “Who do they hunt?” – Should be whom, as they is the subject: They hunt whom?
25 Cons. Fitz says that it’s been “almost ten years since I’d killed anyone”, then, on page 31, he says it was “over a decade” since he’d even thought of killing anyone. No significant amount of time passes between the two occasions.
41 Gr. “[…] it was what I smelled made me […]” – Is there a that missing, or is that intended to be colloquialism (which would be very unusual for Fitz)?
47 Rep. The word “market” is used three times in the same sentence. The first one could be dropped without losing any meaning.
66 Gr. “[…] needled my Skilled at him.” – Perhaps due to an edit; should be Skill.
86 Gr. “Who would you write your memoir for?” – Should be whom.
86 Rep. Two paragraphs begin with “<Something> shocked me”.
92 Rep. Two now occurrences in quick succession: “[…] was guttering now. […] Morning was not far away now.”
103 Cons. “Autumn went out […] as ever it was in fall.” – Not 100%, but I don’t believe the two can be used interchangeably, “fall” being US English and “autumn” being UK/AUS English.
109 Error “She […] wiped vainly at her seventeen.” Huh? Copy/paste error?
112 Cons. “When I had visited the Fool’s old home, I had thought only to look at it for a time and touch the stone that once I had had a friend…” Not sure, but the “stone” seems out of place; the mountain homes weren’t made of stone and there was no other significant stone there as far as I know.
125 Gr. “Who do I have who understands who we are…?” – Should be whom.
127 Gr. “This were the sort of puzzle that I dreaded […]” – Should be was.
132 Gr. “She was too young to ask her permission.” She and her refer to the same person (Bee); since she’s not asking for her own permission, it should be something like “She was too young for me to ask her permission” or “She was too young to be asked for her permission”.
140 Gr./Rep. “[…] wondrous […] wondered […] wondered” within three lines. Also, “as I wondered if” should be whether (it’s not a condition, it’s an either/or case).
151 Conv. “It IS foolish.” – CAPS should be replaced by italics.
189 Gr. “There was no scatter of spoiled pens, no open containers of ink.” – Nitpicky, I know, but to get subject-verb agreement, it should be “There was […], there were no open containers of ink.”
195 Punct. “But now that Bee is here..,” – I’m guessing the comma should be the third dot in the ellipsis?
201 Error “[…] carried away from me a five or six times a year.” – The first a should be deleted, my guess is, “few” was replaced by “five or six” at some point.
204 Rep. “Yet […] Yet […] yet […] yet […]” – Not sure whether this is an intentional juxtaposition, but it seems a little excessive.
219 Gr. “In the middle of briar patch […]” – There’s an article missing; the or a briar patch.
220 Punct. “[…] Cook Nutmeg and our grave steward ?” – The space in front of the question mark should be deleted.
249 Sp. “[…] her differences as short comings.” – Shortcomings is one word.
249 Gr. “I had refused to consider if […]” – Should be whether.
282 Gr. “I recalled that my father said […]” – Should be had said.
286 Sugg. “I longed to be able to better hear” – Without another phrase to follow, I’d rearrange to hear better.
295 Error “Her lips lip curled in a cat smile.” – Looks like a last-minute replacement gone wrong, either lips or lip should be deleted.
307 Sugg. “You’d be putting yourself beyond the pale.” Nitpicky, but this phrase wouldn’t make sense in a world without Ireland or Russia, nor would the modern interpretation of “unacceptable behaviour” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beyond_the_Pale).
309 Punct. “‘You aren’t.’ Chade cut in decisively.” – I believe Chade cutting in refers to his words, “You aren’t”, hence they should be followed by a comma, not a full stop.
312 Rep. Near the middle of the page, Fitz says that he’d known Riddle for years, and that he’d once left him for “worse than dead”, and that Riddle had forgiven him for it. He’s already said pretty much the same thing previously in the middle of page 292. One instance should be edited.
327 Sp. “He was busy, I knew, and he put Withywoods into an uproar with his business.” Since he’s not running a business, it should be busyness (the state of being busy).
350 Sugg. “After you tell Amos, then you must […]” – Redundant then, unless the purpose is to emphasise the order (which doesn’t seem to be the case here). And no, I’m not Shaky Amos 😉
370 Cons. “Would she read the scrolls in the library?” – Unless there’s a room that hasn’t been mentioned previously and isn’t on the map, Bee is probably referring to the room that has always been referred to as Fitz’s study.
391 Sugg. “[…] I realized I had been walked toward […]” – Does Fitz mean that Bee walked him there, or should it be had been walking?
396 Punct. “‘[…] told me that he would hide in th . . .’” – I’ve never seen, in formal writing, an ellipsis cutting off speech in the middle of a word. Conventionally, shouldn’t that be an em-dash? I.e.: ‘[…] told me that he would hide in th—’ The same occurs on pages 474 (“would dare t…”), 484 (“Unles…” – really, one s gets cut off…?), 489 (“If it would please you, sir” is interrupted but has no end punctuation apart from the single quote), 567 (“Skill-linked. S…”), and 624 (“If they see u…”).
406 Error “I paid it no more mind to this than […]” – Another late edit? Should be I paid it no more mind or I paid no more mind to this.
412 Sugg. “I refused to […] puzzle any more on her message.” – I don’t think puzzle should be followed by on… “puzzle over her message” perhaps?
421 Punct. “Such a peculiar idea!’” – Missing start (single) quote to match the end quote.
422 Gr. “Did she used to stutter then?” – The word did already indicates the past tense, hence used to should be changed to use to (otherwise it’s like saying did she went…).
426 Sugg. As on page 434, I think the word bonefire (“had made our bonefire”) should be changed to bonfire (even though that word originates from bonefire and bones were, in fact, on the fire).
432 – 433 Rep. “She […] was adept at avoiding me.” Then, a page and a half on, “I sensed that Bee was avoiding me […].”
444 Sugg. “[…] and finger combed his hair” – Since finger isn’t used as a noun, shouldn’t it be hyphenated, i.e. finger-combed? Not sure, but couldn’t find either version in the dictionary.
463 Gr. “[…] taking a short cut through the gardens.” – I’m pretty sure shortcut is one word, though it could possibly be hyphenated; but it’s not a cut which is short.
469 Error “I opened his eyes […]” – Bee shuts her eyes tightly a few lines earlier, so it should probably be opened my eyes.
472 – 473 Sugg. The tenses in the paragraph beginning “I took her to […]” are a little confusing, mainly because it switches back and forth between the past tense and the pluperfect tense. Do “that evening” and “that night” refer to the same night, before the time Fitz is describing? Should it be “that evening, when I had returned”, and “that night, I had slept”?
491 Cons. Bee plans to be first to the dining table, but “Shun had preceded me”; her tutor “was behind” her. The order is described very carefully, yet when the tutor arrives, he apologizes to Fitz. When did he get there?
504 Error “I wondered if they thought he already knew all about me or if, as I did, knew it indicated he already disapproved of me.” – Apart from the if that should be whether, something is missing there; leaving out the subordinate clause “as I did” leaves “[…] or if knew it indicated […]”, which doesn’t make sense.
510 Sugg. “[…] with earnest mockery.” – Shouldn’t that be “with mocking seriousness” or similar? It seems the author is trying to express that he’s mocking, but pretending to be serious; “earnest mockery” sounds as though he’s seriously mocking someone.
521 Error “[…] several of your wish yourselves elsewhere.” – Should be of you.
529 Sugg. “[…] charms carved from antler” – Not sure, but shouldn’t it be from antlers, or from an antler?
541 Error “[…] and it become even rarer once one has a child.” – Should be becomes.
552 Error “He twisted away to me to reply to [someone else]” – Should be away from me.
555 Gr. “[…] how much further he could see from his height.” – Should be farther, since it relates to physical distance.
556 Error “[…] the thirsty garden that only been waiting” – Should be that has only been waiting.
560 Gr. “Row of scars lined his face” – Should be rows of scars.
568 Error “How could I call for you to save me from when I had not rescued you […]” – There appears to be a word missing after from.
625 Error “[…] and when back for Priss” – I think when should be went.

I thought I’d post this since I haven’t had a reply from either HarperCollins Australia nor from Robin Hobb’s facebook page. Maybe they’re already aware of these issues; if not, I hope someone somewhere comes across them and finds them useful to improve future editions of this great book.

Woohoo, back to guilt-free writing!

This week has been the first really good “writing week” for a while for me. And I’ve finally figured out one of the major factors that lets me just write without restraint: being guilt-free.

I’m not talking about the sort of guilt one might get from having done something “bad”. I mean the sort of nagging guilt that sits in the back of your head, telling you that writing is something you should be doing after you’ve done this or that, that other things should take precedence and need doing first, and then you can get back to writing. That guilt actually has no right to exist! That might be obvious in hindsight, and some may be lucky enough to have a lot more time to dedicate to writing and it never becomes an issue, but to me, it’s something I only really thought about this week.

Working full-time and having a family means I have a very limited amount of time to spend on my hobbies and my passion, writing. (Not that I mind – I enjoy what I do and love my family to bits.) Work has been busy, plus I helped someone out putting together a website, plus a few other things that needed to be taken care of, plus I think I put myself under a bit of pressure taking part in the A to Z Challenge last month, so overall my writing suffered a bit. Oh, I found some time to edit here and there, to make notes about things I need to change/rephrase/improve/add/remove here and there while reading my work on the train to and from work, to write down some ideas I had; I even got around to writing just a little. But it wasn’t really much – not enough to give me that satisfaction that my book is progressing nicely, which is an awesome high.

The unexpected positive side-effect from having had all this time where I didn’t get around to writing much is that, instead of feeling a little guilty, I feel like… well, like I’m owed some writing time.

The pendulum has swung to the other side.

This Wednesday (my designated writing day during the week), I had a really great session and got a sizeable chunk of writing done. Ah, that feels great! And I think that I can now use this experience to my advantage by telling myself that I should be allowed to write more – as long as I don’t neglect the other things I need to do, that nagging feeling of guilt has no right to tell me I should do something else first. Feels good to have figured out that I can now “influence” that pendulum and tell it to stay the heck on one side, the other side is off limits unless it has a really good reason to be there. (Ok, on second thoughts, a pendulum isn’t really the best analogy… but you get my meaning.)

So now, I’m back to sitting at my desk, headphones on with some of my favourite music playing, and I’m enjoying writing a quick blog post (I keep telling myself it’ll be quick, but it never is…) before I get to travel back into that wonderful world I’ve created in my mind. I don’t even care whether saying that it’s wonderful is bragging. 😛 I got some gaming out of my system as well this week (something I need to do periodically, I’ll blog at some point about that “other guilty pleasure”), so nothing is standing in my way, including my own conscience. I have the right mindset and I’m not letting go.

Take that, guilt!

It’s Saturday night, no plans, no guilt, and there are hours left in which I can write. In the immortal (paraphrased) words of the great poet, Homer Simpson:

Mmmmh, writing… *drool*

10 more common mistakes writers shouldn’t make

Previously, on Amos M. Carpenter

In one of my very first posts, back in early March, I wrote about 10 common mistakes writers shouldn’t make. Spotting mistakes is one of my gifts – or curses; hard to say which at any given moment – and I’ll go over some I notice in writing of all types, from Internet scribbling to serious books.

To recap those from the last post, the five easy ones were:

  1. Definitely
  2. Don’t add apostrophes to make plurals
  3. Homonyms: “its” vs “it’s”, “their” vs “there” vs “they’re”, “your” vs “you’re”
  4. Using “alot” a lot
  5. I before E, except after C… how hard can it be?

The five that were slightly trickier:

  1. Careful with your tenses
  2. Singular “is” vs plural “are”
  3. Who thinks of whom
  4. The postfix -ward vs -wards
  5. Using “if” vs “whether”

Continuing on from last time, I thought I’d blog about 10 more mistakes that have caught my eye.

Five (arguably) easy ones

1. Separate

Like “definitely”, this is one of those words an incredible number of people just do not know how to spell. It’s not “seperete”, or “sepret”, or “separete”. If you can’t remember it any other way, think of the word “karate” when you write it.

2. Space before punctuation

I believe that some people who also speak (and read/write) French get confused on this one (because in French, you use a space before punctuation). Or they just don’t know any better. In English, there is no space before punctuation like commas, full-stops, exclamation marks, or question marks. (“No space for you!”) Of course there’s one space after them, though. With en- and em-dashes, it can be different, depending on which style guide you’re following, as some prefer to use spaces both before and after them.

3. Couple OF

Dropping the preposition “of” after using “couple” is becoming more popular. However, I’d always recommend adding the “of”, as dropping it is mostly due to writers following in the footsteps of sloppy speakers. In spoken language, of often gets abbreviated to o’, so we go from “a couple of apples” to “a couple o’apples” to “a coupl’a apples” to “a couple apples”. It’s the same with “a cup of tea” becoming “a cuppa tea” – but would you ever say “a cup tea”, dropping the “of” completely?

I recently noticed how much this annoyed me when I read Patrick Rothfuss’ otherwise wonderful books (as I mentioned in this post). He’s one of those people (or perhaps it’s his editor?) who don’t believe “couple” needs a preposition, and many times while reading his story, it jarred me enough that it broke my immersion. (He’s still one of my favourite authors. I’m a forgiving sort of person. At least when someone tells such great stories.)

4. Then vs than

This one should be very simple – use then when referring to time, use than when comparing – but many people still get it wrong. First comes one thing, then something else. Jack is taller than Jill. Simple.

5. Have isn’t of

When “have” gets abbreviated, as in “I could have” becoming the contraction “I could’ve”, it sounds like, but isn’t “I could of”. I suppose people who get this wrong just write things the way they hear it, but pausing just a second to think about it should make it obvious that the two are not interchangeable. I could of, would of, should of used could have, would have, should have.

Five more, slightly trickier

Ok, I’m sure you knew all of the above, so here are some that are just a tad more advanced.

6. Is “alright” all right?

Many careful English users would consider the shortened form, “alright”, to be less acceptable than “all right”, especially in formal writing. Some would even consider it to be an invalid word, but it can be found in some writing, mainly in the US, so perhaps it will become more acceptable in time. For now, I’d recommend sticking with “all right”.

7. Further vs farther

You’ll know this one if you’ve seen Finding Forrester. It’s easiest to remember if you keep in mind that “far” relates to (measurable) distance, as does “farther”. On the other hand, “further” is used when denoting an abstract amount of something. So it’s “set them farther apart”, but “of no further value”.

It gets tricky when the dividing line between the two isn’t immediately obvious, as in “to go one step further/farther” – you have to ask yourself whether it is a physical step (i.e. “farther”), or a metaphorical step (“further”).

8. Capitalisation of formal titles

Obviously, certain things are always capitalised (capitalized, if you prefer – in Australia, we use the “s” form, I believe both are used in the UK and the US prefers “z”), such as days of the week, languages, or countries. But what about formal titles, “honourifics”, like General, or Professor, or Queen? Are they capitalised or not? Well, it depends on how you use them. If the word is used to refer to a particular person holding that title, it should be capitalised. If it is used to refer to a group of them, or to the title itself, leave it in lowercase (with the obvious exception of being the first word in a sentence).

Thus, it would be “Professor Smith”, or even “there’s the Professor” (despite the name not being used, it’s a particular professor), but “he’s a professor at my university”, or “the professors have arrived”.

If you invent a title for your story, you should treat it the same way.

9. Full-stops (periods) after abbreviations

When do you place a full-stop after an abbreviation? Why do you sometimes see it written as “Mr.”, and sometimes as “Mr”?

In British English (similarly for AUS/NZ/SA as far as I’m aware), the deciding factor is whether the abbreviation begins and ends with the same letters as the full word or phrase. Since “Mr” does meet this criterion (mister), there is no full-stop: Mr Jones. “Prof.”, however, does not begin with “p” and end with “r” (professor), so it gets a full-stop: Prof. Jones.

In US English, I believe the full-stop is always used. Just something to be aware of when you read and write.

10. Ellipses at the end of sentences

The ellipses I’m talking (well, writing) about are the ones in creative writing that indicate the speaker trailing off, or leaving something unsaid, as opposed to those that indicate an omission in a quote.

This is one that depends on which styleguide you follow. Some argue that an ellipsis (dot dot dot) at the end of a sentence finishes that sentence, while others consider it a part of the sentence and add a fourth dot to end the sentence, just as if the ellipsis had been any other word….

Personally, I add the fourth dot, even in informal writing (e.g. in blog comments), but I think the main thing is to pick a convention and stick with it consistently.

Conclusion

There you go, I hope some of these common mistakes have refreshed your memory of what to look out for, or perhaps even taught you something new.

Which errors do you frequently commit, or spot? Which ones really annoy you when you see them in written form? Or do you think sticklers for detail (like me) should just stop with the nitpicky posts already? Please let me know in the comments!

Five aspiring authors in a cage

Most people would have read the “five monkeys in a cage” tale. If not, google it or (if you’re lazy), watch the summary on vimeo. Essentially, it is a tale encouraging us to question why things are sometimes done the way they are done with no apparent reason.

Five monkeys in a cage

Five monkeys in a cage (ok, the picture has more than five… it still gets the point across I think)

Today, I read fellow blogger Jodie Llewellyn’s nice post on “Adverbs… yes or no?” and I agree with her about adverbs getting a bad rap (not “wrap”, by the way 😉 ), but couldn’t help but notice that some of the comments there were fairly one-sided and “anti-adverb”. Is comparing people who advise against using adverbs to the five monkeys left in the cage a little extreme? Perhaps, but so is flat-out advising against the use of adverbs.

Adverbs are not evil, people.

As with so many things, the importance is to use adverbs in moderation. Granted, many of the commenters did advise moderation, and some pointed out why their overuse should be avoided. I don’t disagree with that. But saying their use is the “easy way out”, or a “shortcut”, that removing all adverbs from a manuscript makes it “stronger”, and that “said” should never be modified with an adverb? Really? I don’t want to offend anyone, and I don’t want anyone committing the strawman fallacy of claiming that I advocate liberal use of adverbs in all styles of writing (I don’t), but that just sounds like parochial adverb-bashing to me.

I also noted (with the slightest of smirks, I must admit), that those with adverb-allergies don’t mind using rather long adverbial phrases. How is that any better?

Journalism is probably an area where adverbs should be avoided more than in fiction. Sections in fiction where the reader should be left to fill the partially-drawn canvas with her own imagination should have fewer or no adverbs.

However, adverbs can (I stress can) be useful: they can clarify, modify, moderate, strengthen, explain; they can be elegant, precise, and more succinct than a laborious adverbial phrase. I suspect a number of adverb-despisers don’t realise how heavily they use adverbial phrases, and that sometimes – sometimes – a good adverb can be better. Adverbs have their place in first-person perspectives, for instance, where the narrator’s opinion should colour the reader’s impression.

I see close similarities between what is considered to be “good writing” and what is considered to be “elegant programming” (in my day job). Inexperienced writers, like inexperienced programmers, tend to sometimes follow certain patterns, or do too much or too little of something. Editors or code reviewers pick up on these patterns and, in formulating advice on how to prevent such anti-patterns, sometimes generalise a little too much, or state their advice as though it was doctrine. Such advice has its use, but experienced writers or programmers should take this advice with a hefty pinch of salt. The turkey city lexicon is a prime example. Know the rules, know the conventions, but also be aware of when and how they should be broken (or at least bent).

The comment that scared me into writing this post was one from a writer who said he was new to sharing his writing, hadn’t considered the use of adverbs too much, and now thought he should indeed remove adverbs to make his writing stronger. Please… let’s not create more monkeys who do things just because “that’s the way things are done around here”.

A little wiser tomorrow

I’ve made very little progress writing this week, at least in terms of writing new stuff. However, I’ve recently been busy reading what I’ve written, mainly on the train to and from work, and have been making so many notes of little things I need to change that it took me most of my creative day this week to apply all these improvements to my manuscript. Guess that leaves this weekend to finally make some progress as far as the word-count is concerned.

While reading, I’ve also made notes about ideas I’ve had concerning the ending, but don’t like getting ahead of myself and skipping large sections – I always find I have to edit too much when I do that.1

Many writers say you should write your complete first draft before you go back to edit. The perfectionist in me won’t always let me do that.

Writing away when I’m “in the zone” is great and gets me closer to completing my manuscript much faster than the “write a bit, edit a bit” approach. Occasionally, though, I need to take a step back to see the bigger picture, re-read my work in light of that bigger picture, and adjust what I’ve written accordingly. It stops me from going off on a tangent that’s interesting, but not all that relevant to the story I want to tell, gets me back on track, and lets me insert those all-important little details in the right places, details that will only make sense to the reader later when the right threads are woven together.2

Only very recently have I bothered to think about why it is that certain things work for me while others do not. I suppose I have the fact that I’ve started this blog to thank for making me think about this at all; looking for blog-worthy topics means I have to think about what I do and why I do it as well as doing it.

1 Why does skipping large sections not work well for me?
2 Why does frequent editing work for me when most others advise against it?

Thinking about these questions, I can’t help but think how I sometimes edit my own writing and ask myself, “What were you thinking when you wrote that?” This made me realise that I always look back on my “old self”, if you will (be that the self that started writing many years ago or the more recent self that just wrote the most recent chapter), with an ever-so-slight air of superiority. Why? I think it’s because part of me realises that, right now, I’m ever-so-slighly wiser than I was yesterday, or a week ago, or a year ago. I could be deluding myself, of course, but doesn’t it seem logical that I improve as I write more, read more, think more? I’m certainly not yet at an age where I decline mentally, so I’m at least as wise, or smart, as I ever was… probably more so. Well, slightly.

Once I accept that reasoning, the (slightly uncomfortable) truth is that tomorrow, I’ll be another little bit wiser than I am today.

1 That’s why, if I skip a section now, I’ll have trouble connecting smoothly to it tomorrow – because I’ll know more details about how my story gets there once it does get there. If I have what seems like a great idea about what happens later, notes or fragments should suffice for now. I can edit them in later. Or not, if the “future-me” doesn’t think it’ll work.

2 That’s why I can edit my writing now, but later, I’ll have another idea about how to make a miniscule improvement, how to phrase something less awkwardly, how to make dialogue seem more natural.

Hmm. Maybe that means the writers who say “edit later” are correct after all. I’ll have to think about that one….

Whom do you trust more, the “now-you”, or the “future-you”?

Reading what you wrote

I’m my own worst critic. In the seemingly neverending iterations of writing, reading, and editing, I’ve found that one thing that helps me to see my own writing from a different angle is to read it in a different format than the one in which I wrote it.

Today is my creative day, so I don’t have much time to blog (since I need to keep working on my book – but I promised myself I’d do at least one blog post per day for the first week and then at least once a week after that), but I’ll try and keep this short and sweet.

I like to try and set up my favourite writing software, LibreOffice Writer, so that I can see what I’m writing in a “book-like” format: two columns to a landscape page. Maybe it’s conceit on my part, but I enjoy imagining what it could look like as a finished product.

Book in LibreOffice

A screenshot of how I’ve formatted my book in my favourite writer (the text is deliberately smudged… I’m shy, sue me)

However, every once in a while, I find it extremely helpful to view it in a different format, especially one that I read “real” books in. Printing pages out on paper might work for some; personally, I enjoy reading books on my Android mobile phone during boring train rides to and from work. So I’ll save my book’s chapters as little text files, copy them to my mobile, and use CoolReader to read it like any other book.

This helps me to view my own work from a different perspective, to read it as though I’d never seen it, and therefore to take a step back, see the bigger picture, and be able to critique it without being in writing or editing mode, purely in reading mode.

Reading this way, I often find myself switching to a note-taking app to note down what I need to change, things I wouldn’t have found if I’d just read it in the same format in which I write. When I read a passage and completely forget that I should actually know exactly what’s going to happen next, I know it’s good.

What techniques do you use to help you read/write/edit more effectively? Do you prefer a relatively plain format of your book-in-progress, or do you style it up a certain way? Let me know in the comments.