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2 April 2002
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Ralan's SpecFic & Humor Webstravaganza

by Ralan

Most mgazine and webzine editors will turn down submissions that have too many errors. Be they typos, misspellings, or grammatical slips, they spell doom for an otherwise good tale. Editors simply haven't the time to correct your boo-boos.

As a writer, you have to know your basics. Two books that should be considered every writer's 'drill sergeants' are "The Elements of Style" by William Strunk, Jr. & E.B. White, and "The Elements of Grammar" by Margaret Shertzer (for U.S. English only). The first is your bible, as far as handling words. The second is the best-organized, most complete guide to correct nuts-and-bolts U.S. English grammar I've ever come across (for the King's English try Collins COBUILD English Grammar). Luckily, they aren't expensive and you can find them just about everywhere. These books should be studied, not read—several times! You can buy both for about twenty dollars from Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0028614496/104-0883093-7472729), or at Amazon.co.uk.

But even if you got top grades in English 101, and have highlighted a bunch of passages in the above books, there’s always the chance you’ll muck something up. That’s where spelling and grammar (S&G) checks can help. I do a lot of drafts (at least 5 or 6) where what I mostly do is cut my work—throwing out unnecessary stuff and making it simple-but-elegant… I hope! When I’m done, I run it through a S&G check.

The important thing to remember when doing this, however, is not to take the S&G program at its word. It may skip over words that are spelled correctly, but used improperly (like: to, too, and two; or lie and lay). It may tell you that a sentence is not complete and must be corrected when a fragment is what you want. Remember you are the boss! But pay attention, because what you’re being told is that there is a problem. Study the words, phrase, sentence, or paragraph highlighted. Is your meaning clear, while still staying in the parameters of your voice, mood, style, and characterization? If you’re violating some sacred grammarian law, is it inside quotation marks, or vital to the structure? If so, it’s probably okay. If not, consider changing it.

Most important, remember that a S&G check will not make a piece perfect. There are always problems that slip by (as mentioned above). I have a long list I run every story through. Using the search function, I check homonyms like there/their/they’re and your/you’re; trouble words like lay/lie; passive words like be/been; adverbs that end in -ly; overused words and common punctuation typos like double periods or a space before a comma.

Your final read-though of every new work should always be out loud. Saying the words makes you look at the story differently. Your tongue will trip over typos that your eye has skipped a dozen times.

After this oral reading the story should finally be ready for someone else to look at. If you have a dedicated reader, or a writing group, to read your work, that helps too. Just do your best not to send an editor something with mistakes in it, either story, or typo, wise.

(Next time: "Loose Ends")

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