Wordsmithing: Shark Attack Review for Conference
Beware! The Grammar Shark loves conferences. It can smell your manuscript miles and miles away. It feeds on nervously fingered one-sheets too.
Use your repellent now, while there’s still time to spiff up your writing. Agents and editors won’t flinch at your stammering or the spittle flecked on your chin—it’s the shine of your wordsmithing that will grab their attention.
So here’s Queenie’s (that’s me) Top 10 (+1) Conference Tips quick-gob review from a spray can:
- Write try to, not try and. Try to polish your writing with the shine of good grammar. (Don’t write try and polish.)
- Use a hyphen with phrasal adjectives. When two or more adjectives work together as a unit (phrase) to describe a noun, hyphenate them when they’re placed in front of the noun (but not if they’re placed after the noun.) Sam is a well-known author, but Suzy is a writer who is not well known.
- Ellipsis. An ellipsis at the end of a sentence can be typed with spaces like this . . . or, after a period, like this. . . . Equally correct is with no spaces like this ... or, after a period, like this….
- Dialogue and quotation marks. In dialogue, the content of single quotation marks (including its punctuation) is placed inside a set of double quotation marks (with its appropriate punctuation). Sam asked, “Did Suzy say, ‘Goodbye’?”
- Interrupted speech or thought. Punctuate with a dash when the break is abrupt or strong, and with an ellipsis to show faltering or fragmented speech due to confusion or insecurity. “I might—no, I will—do what you want” versus “I might … no … I will … do what you want.”
- Lay/Lie. The verb lay (to put, place, or set) always has a direct object: I lay the baby down. The verb lie (to rest, recline) never has a direct object: I lie down to sleep. Beware that lay (unfortunately) is the past tense of lie: Yesterday I lay down to sleep.
- Who or that? A human can be referred to with either who or that, but anything nonhuman is always that. The agent who interviewed Sam said the editor that sat next to him didn’t like stories about cats that talk.
- That clauses. Clauses beginning with that are not set off with commas because the clause’s information is essential to correctly understanding the sentence: The rabbit that hid in the hat is Sam’s. In contrast, clauses beginning with which are set off with commas because the information is not essential, just extra: The rabbit, which hid in the hat, is Sam’s.
- The pronoun it. It is both a personal pronoun and an indefinite pronoun. When used as a personal pronoun, it must have a specific antecedent. When used as an indefinite pronoun, the antecedent either legitimately doesn’t exist or the antecedent is not a noun but is a phrase, clause, sentence, or implied thought. No matter what, it’s best to seldom use it.
- Correct pronoun use. Complete your sentences that make comparisons using than and as so that you use the correct pronouns. Sam types faster than she [types]. Suzy eats as much pizza as we [eat].
- Conjunctions and commas.A comma precedes the conjunctions and, or, nor, but, so, or yet in a compound sentence: Suzy ate celery all day, and she lost weight. Do not use a comma with the same conjunctions when they simply connect compound predicates: Suzy ate celery all day and lost weight.
May the sharks evade you, and may your wordsmithing prosper. Have a great conference!