Writing Guide

Common Grammar Mistakes:

Tense:

  • When writing in past tense, sometimes present tense will still have to be used.
    • For example: Ellie watched her brother take the apple that she wanted from the basket. Notice how ‘take’ is in present tense. It is not ‘took.’ When a character performs an action that involves another person or the same person doing another action, that second action is typically in present tense while the first action is in past.
  • Employ the present participle ‘-ing’ properly when affixed to past tense verbs used first.
    • For example: Ellie ate the apple while watching television. Even though the eating of the apple is being done in the past, it is incorrect to say “Ellie ate the apple while watched television.” Ellie cannot ate and watched at the same time. She completed the first action of consuming the apple (past) while she was continually still doing another action (present).
    • Exceptions: Ellie ate the apple and watched television. Notice the slight difference. Because ‘and’ (conjunction) was used instead of ‘while,’ (adverb) watching turned into watched (past). This is because the actions were completed at the same time. There was no time order to which event was done first. In this sense, it is assumed that Ellie is no longer watching television after eating. In the first example, it is possible she still is watching after finishing the apple. Of course, further event details can change this assumption. But, that is the “expectation” of what’s happening in the different sentences. An adverb modifies the timing of actions.

Editing:

  • Self-editing your own story can be tricky as it’s easier to miss mistakes. Read your story backwards instead of forwards to see if transitions, clauses, and paragraph breaks make sense.
  • Wait several days without writing or reading your story and then go back to edit.
    • If you wait even longer, such as after a month hiatus, you can also content edit much easier by viewing the story as a reader. See where information is repeated, what is filler that doesn’t progress the plot, and insignificant details that don’t contribute toward a future event or bring something new to the current event.

Quick Punctuation Know-How: 

Commas:

  • Connect two related, independent clauses together with a conjunction.
    • For example, Ellie loved reading books, but her English teacher assigned so many boring ones. Commas are placed before conjunctions and separate two independent clauses which are related to one another. Using a comma to separate two independent clauses without a conjunction is incorrect and is called a comma splice. FANBOYS is an acronym for conjunctions. They are for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so.
  • Create complex sentences with commas that separate subordinate clauses from the independent, main clause.
    • For example: Leaving no space unturned, Ellie ransacked the kitchen for snacks. The action of ‘leaving’ is correctly directed at Ellie. A common mistake is, “Leaving no space unturned, the kitchen was ransacked.” Here, the action of ‘leaving’ is incorrectly directed toward the kitchen. This is called a dangling modifier; the action is incorrectly referring to the wrong or missing subject.

Semicolons:

  • Connect two related, independent clauses together without using conjunctions or separating into two sentences.
    • For example: Ellie’s least favorite class was math; she hated the amount of homework the teacher assigned. The second clause builds upon the first clause. A semi-colon strengthens this relation and makes it more impactful than two separate sentences or a conjunction such as ‘and.’
    • If the two clauses are not independent, and they have no relation to one another, or a contrasting conjunction such as ‘but’ is more suitable, semi-colons are not recommended. Otherwise, utilizing semi-colons every so often can vary sentence structure and make reading more interesting.

Spelling Tips:

Vocabulary:

  • Synonyms can greatly enhance your range of expression and build stronger voice. Use a thesaurus to search if another word is more suitable.
    • If you encounter unfamiliar words, or even if you know the word, check its definitions and origins to make sure that it indeed matches the meaning and tone you are targeting. The more you do this, the greater your vocabulary will become, and the quicker you will be able to develop a rich and or unique writing style of your own.
  • Ensure that your range of vocabulary matches your intended audience. If you are writing for teens and children, then opt for simpler, more common words in order to make reading level easier for them.
    • For example: Use “thinking” or “reflecting” over “ruminating” and “musing.” These latter two words are typically better suited for adult audiences.

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