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Let’s Get Specific

NaNoWriMo is coming up on us fast and, for those of us out there who are considering taking the challenge, I thought it would be a good idea to share a few pointers with you all. Primers that you can refer to and or, if you feel so inclined, print out and keep at the ready as a reminder.

Today I’m starting with spelling, grammar, and punctuation, things we easily miss and or forget.

Spelling
First rule of thumb, proofread your work by reading it out loud.

Grammar
• it’s = it is.
• its = belonging to it, used exactly the same way as his or hers.
• there = a location, as in: over there, there it is.
• their = belonging to them, as in: their house, their car.
• they’re = they are, as in: “They’re coming right at us!
• your = belonging to you, as in: your hat, your glove.
• you’re = you are, as in “You’re starting to annoy me.”

Punctuation
• Terminal period and commas inside closing quotation marks.
• US-writers may use the serial comma, as in: They publish crime, adventure, and erotica.
• Question marks are only used after a direct question.
• Watch out for excessive use of exclamation points.

Quote marks
Use standard, American-style dialogue format with double quote marks. It’s easier for all concerned.

Scene breaks
• Flashbacks and dream sequences should be separated by one blank line above and below.
• Scene breaks should be indicated by * * * or the hash symbol # with one blank line above and below.

Ellipses
• Use ellipses to indicate incomplete sentences or a speaker’s voice trailing off.
• Use ellipses when presenting one side of a telephone conversation, as in: “Yes?…I think I can but—”
• Always use three-point, un-spaced ellipses.
• Capitalize the first word in a complete sentence after ellipses.

Em dashes
Use an em dash (formed by typing two hyphens, then “ENTER” in Word Docs) to indicate breaks in dialogue and to indicate when one character interrupts another’s speech. No spaces should appear before or after an em dash.

Italics
• Use to indicate internal monologue.
• Italicize the names of specific ships and other vessels, such as Apollo 13.
• Italicize unfamiliar foreign words and phrases.

Abbreviations
• Spell out percent, degrees in running text.
• U.S. and D.C. except in addresses.
• Spell out state names in running text.

That/Which
Try to avoid:
• Susan painted a sun, which was yellow.
• Susan painted the sun that was yellow.
Try for:
• Susan painted a yellow sun.

Numbers
Spell out numbers in dialogue, unless they have decimals.

Blond/Blonde
Use blonde as a feminine noun only:
• She was blonde.
• She had blond hair.

Specific Words
• All right; e-mail; good-bye; good night; Internet; Web site; fax.
• Afterward/Backward/Forward/Toward — No “s” at the end.
• Also is an adverb, not a conjunction.
• Charismatic: eyes are not charismatic, people are.
• Earth, as in referring to a body in the solar system: “We spotted Earth from the surface of the moon.”
• Earth’s orbit, but earth when talking about soil.
• e.g. and i.e. both take a comma, as in e.g., / i.e., (e.g., = for example; i.e., = that is to say.)
• Emigrant is one who leaves a place.
• Enormity does not mean “enormousness”; it is used in the “enormity of the crime”.
• Dilemma, as in choice, not a problem.
• Immigrant is someone who comes into a place.
• Nonetheless, is all one word.
• Onto indicates motion as in getting on top of; you hold on to something. “On to” also means “proceeding,” as in, “The elevator opened on to the fourth floor.”
• Use farther to indicate physical distance and further to indicate time.
• For “whom” the bell tolls. Please, if you have to use the word whom, make sure you know in what context.

10 Comments

  1. Oh this is interesting, especially for a foreigner like me. I always try to give special attention not to make mistakes on the its/it’s and their/they’re etc.

    We use terminal periods outside of quotation marks as a general rule at the company so it’s hard to break that habit. Great post!

    • Oh, I’m glad you found it helpful, Inge. I just thought it would be fun to share a few primers as I know a few of my readers are, like me, doing the NaNo – National Writing Month. This one is Americanized, as in the UK we use single quotes for dialogue, and the Oxford comma is not a hard and fast rule.

    • True, Joe, it’s more about hitting the word count for the day than worrying about spelling and grammar. That comes afterwards.

  2. I second Inge who is from my country too Alexandra! I think I will save the link to your post and come back when I have to check everything twice. The spelling is usually right but scenes break, that/which etc can be tricky.

    • Oh, that’s good to know, Sophie. I did hope that people would find these ‘primers’ helpful. Even those of us brought up speaking English get caught out. And whether we’re writing the next big novel, a short story, or even a blog post, it’s always helpful to have a few tips at hand.

  3. It’s like my boss read this post and decided to break all the rules.
    Reading his emails is a painful experience. 😀 He loves a good comma and uses it 90% of the time instead of a full stop. Also loves finishing statements with question marks.

    • He sounds like the kind of person that would drive me mad, Norrie. I’d be there, hovering over his shoulder, red pen in hand, even if he were writing an email. I could always stab him with the pen if it got so bad! 😉

  4. D’you know, I don’t think anyone has ever explained the difference between farther and further to me before. Thank you.

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