Everyone knows a good story can sell, but what about its composition? It’s one thing to have a good story; however, if your grammar, punctuation and spelling fall short, you might not have the adequate tools to tell it or at least not clearly. You want to put your best foot forward when presenting your writing to an audience or a publisher. Proper grammar, therefore, is a necessity. While it may seem petty to some, poorly constructed sentences can be the death of a good story. If your grammar is not up to par, publishing houses will not even give your story the time of day. With that said, here are five common grammatical mistakes that you can make sure to correct before you submit your manuscript:
1. Keep your punctuation inside the quotation marks. Whenever quotation marks are used, make sure to keep any punctuation (commas, questions marks, exclamation marks) inside the quote.
“What’s going on”? Sally asked.
“What’s going on?” Sally asked.
2. Make sure you have a new paragraph for every new speaker. As long as there is more than one character speaking, each character needs his or her own paragraph, no matter how long or short the dialogue is.
“Who’s there?” Sally asked. “It’s me,” Charlie said.
“Who’s there?” Sally asked.
“It’s me,” Charlie said.
“You scared me.”
Notice that the last sentence has no attribution (speaker identified), but we know Sally is speaking. How do we know? The writer started a new paragraph immediately after the character to whom she was talking.
3. Use commas to separate character names from their descriptors. When introducing a new character, authors often like to give them a small description to separate them from the rest of the cast. If the description is not essential to the meaning of the sentence, you need to set it off with commas.
Sally was angry with Charlie her annoying younger brother for scaring her.
Sally was angry with Charlie, her annoying younger brother, for scaring her.
4. Watch out for tense changes mid-sentence. Present tense (I am) occurs in the here and now, past tense (I was) explains things that have already happened, and future tense (I will) refers to something that is going to happen. Unless it is a conscious stylistic choice, the narrative of the novel should always remain consistently in one tense.
Sally chased Charlie through the house but can’t catch him.
Sally chased Charlie through the house but couldn’t catch him.
5. Use contractions to make dialogue sound more believable. Contractions occur when two words are combined to make speech flow smoother (ex: do not becomes don’t). Any lack of contractions should be purposeful character quirks or your character will come off sounding stuffy and stilted. Mostly likely, if a character isn’t using contractions, they’re a historical figure.
“I am sorry for scaring you,” Charlie said and offered his toy dinosaur as reparation.
“I’m sorry for scaring you,” Charlie said and offered his toy dinosaur as reparation.
The error comes, however, when these contractions are used incorrectly. This is especially true with the following:
Its vs. It’s (it is)
Your vs. You’re (you are)
Their vs. They’re (they are)
Were vs. We’re (we are)
With these tips in mind, you will make sure readers lose themselves in your storytelling, not your grammatical mistakes. To learn more about editing or to receive quote from editing professionals, contact our editors at firstname.lastname@example.org.