I started to “meet” many modern authors through the joys of Internet groups for authors, readers and writers. So I started to read their books. I am especially interested in Indie Christian Writers, and I wanted to help them by writing reviews to post on places like Amazon and Goodreads.
Please don’t think I’m joining the legion of critics accusing Indie writers of being incompetent. But I do believe we are insular. We do what we do without a lot of help. Authors who have experienced the slash and change technique of traditional publishers understand that their “I know what will sell” attitude can do great violence to a writer and his work. Some have told me they paid for proofreading and editing. They got robbed, in my opinion.
I’m going to hope that I’m right, that authors can do a few simple things to help us get out from under the stigma that Indie writers don’t care about correctness.
First, please throw away that auto-editor, if you have one. It introduces errors. Should I repeat that with all capital letters? Even if you hired and paid an editor, I would bet money some of them are using an auto-editor. Somehow writers are letting homophone errors into their works. The title of this post is an example of homophone errors.
You control your horse with reins. You also rein in your emotions. But a king reigns over you. A dictator has a reign of terror. I have seen shutter (window coverings) for shudder (shaking badly), wonder (uncertain or amazed) for wander (walking aimlessly), and many, many others.
Read up on homophones, and you’ll get a list of words commonly misspelled, commonly confused, and that spellcheckers or auto-editors really can’t handle. But some are not so obvious. The cure is to have some real person read the thing. Maybe several real persons, and underline or turn red everything that sounds strange or wrong. I’m not really talking about editing. Hardly even proofreading. Just real eyes to catch what you might miss.
“Lay” and “lie” are very confusing. Lay the book on the table. The path lies yonder. Lay up treasure in heaven. It’s a question of whether something does the action, or whether action is done to it.
Use “further” when it’s in your head, like “upon further examination.” Use “farther” when it’s on a map, like “We went farther today than yesterday.”
One rule of thumb is that almost all punctuation goes inside the end quotation mark in a conversation, unless you use British English rules. “I love you,” she said. “I love you!” he screamed. “I love you?” she asked. “I love you.” Hannah threw her arms around him. Only time it might not is something like this: “‘I love you’! Is that all you can say after what you did?” Somebody’s repeating what someone else said, but with his own inflection (emotional quality) and within his own sentence. The exclamation point means the speaker’s angry about what the person he’s quoting said. It doesn’t go with the original “I love you.”
Enough mushy stuff. One set of errors that is both a punctuation problem and a homophone problem is with “it’s” or “its.” “It’s” is a contraction meaning “it is.” It does not mean “belonging to it.” That’s what “its” means. Examples: “It’s a sad state of affairs when your car gets a mind of its own regarding fuel economy.” If you can’t make the words “it is” out of what you want to say, then don’t give it an apostrophe.
Here’s how to do “to, too and two”: “The two of us are going to the store and dad is going, too.” Two is a number. To is a destination. Too means also (or sometimes it’s a qualifier, as in “too much”). Here’s one more: “your” is possessive, as in “That’s your problem” and “you’re” is a contraction meaning “you are.”
Do not use apostrophes for mere plurals like “The Bushes invited us to Kennebunkport.” (Notice that the name Bush gets an “e” tacked on in both these examples.) Use them for plural possessives like “The Bushes’ estate on Kennebunkport was beautiful.” No it doesn’t get another “s.”
Briefly, here are my rules on hyphens, dashes and ellipses (a group of three periods). Hyphens connect two words that go together to modify a word. “Blood-red sand.” “Break-neck speed.” “Ellie-Mae Clampet.”(Well, maybe that last is not the best example.) “Dead-on throw.” A dash is two hyphens together, sometimes called an em-dash. If you are running, speaking in broken gasps, use that double-dash between words. “Wait — Can’t catch — breath.” If you are a poor speaker of the language and words might be left out, use that too. “No — understand — English.”
In other words, dashes are for speech that’s broken up but not drawn out. Quick breaks or sharply broken off, as when someone is interrupted or startled speechless. Ellipses are for drawn-out speech. “I … am … dying.” “You … can’t … be … serious.” Nothing missing, nothing uncertain, just drawn out for a certain effect. Leave a space after the word and before the em-dash or ellipses, but normally not when using a hyphen.
Here are some bad, wrong, naughty things I don’t want to see in your books. Please. Not ever. At least, not again.
“John looked into her eyes”. (Unless you are British, get that period inside that quote, now!)
“Go over their and help him.” (Go over their what? — It should be there.) Their is a possessive, when something or things belong to more than one person. And by the way, stop saying “their” instead of him or her/ his or her to try to be politically correct/gender neutral.
“Those books are not her’s.” (No such thing. It’s hers and only hers. There are no hi’s, are there?)
“I’ll never except that from you.” (You say “accept” here. ‘Except” would be as in, “I like this, except I hated the ending.”)
“You cant come in here.” You must have an apostrophe in this, “can’t.” It’s a contraction for can not. “Cant” means putting something at an angle or a special vocabulary for a group of people.
“That wasn’t complementary to my intellect.” This word means something that goes with something or makes it better. Instead you want complimentary, meaning to express approval.
Verbs have a present tense, a past tense and a future tense. Plus there are a bunch of sub-tenses. Most authors write in the past tense. “He went to school.” Simple. However, if you add this it gets more complicated: “He went to school as he had gone every day that month.” You might also say, “He went to school as he did every day.”
Here’s where it gets very tricky. “John no longer went to school. At one time he had gone every day. He remembered having gone, but it had become only a faint recollection.” You have established a pattern of starting out in the past and then talking about times in the more distant past. “At one time he went every day. He remembered going, but it became only a faint recollection.” It really is okay to say it this second way. But you don’t want to end up with this. “He will have went back to that time when he hadn’t have thought through what leaded up to that dreadful sentence.”