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48-43: The countdown continues to the biggest blunders.
Some of the next ones are going to sound petty. Feel free to moan−no one is listening! –that internal monologue may keep you company. What the fledgling may find pretty and trivial are the golden ones, that The Grammar Stasi often judge you by, they are more tangible and less subjective, and like the now disbanded East German secret police (If you have never seen The Lives of Others, which won the Oscar for best Foreign film in 2006 – that has to be your homework) both have and had a lot of members, but the ‘GS’ are difficult to spot except by their native call normally in quite populated areas (The Common Greater Spotted GS) or just as common, but rarer to observe, the Lesser Spotted Writing GS−these can only be seen on lines on the page and screen.
48. Contractions of words and hyphenated words. Make sure you get the word right. All right vs alright. It should technically be ‘all right’ but it is now acceptable to use ‘alright’. I sometimes use ‘all right’ in formal writing and ‘alright’ in direct speech. ‘No one’ is the correct spelling, but ‘no-one’ is creeping in. There are lots.
Whether to hyphenate or not depends on many factors, but remember we are doing this to add clarity to our work, making it easier for the reader. ‘Re-cover’ is completely different to ‘recover’ and ‘re-creation’ to recreation’. With nearly all literature we can give them long fancy names but they are quite straightforward, using the right word and consistency is the key. This is a good website to look at for more information http://www.dailywritingtips.com/10-types-of-hyphenation-errors/
47. Contractions in direct speech (and first person narration). When people speak they are generally lazy, they contract a word/words and often run them into one another. If you are meeting the Queen to get an Honour, say for example: ‘Order of the Protection of the Empire against Undesirables’, you might use clipped received (might need a hyphen?) English−How old fashioned these seem now?, imagine in this day and age getting an honour that represents a long gone empire! When people talk normally they use ‘can’t’ instead of’ cannot’, ‘wouldn’t’, not, ‘would not’ etc. Make your direct speech realistic, set the right tone. The grey area is when you are writing in the first person and you want to convey a greater stream of consciousness or speed the prose up, you may wish to contract words to do this. Again it is about consistency, but you might want to speed one part up and slow another down for dramatic effect?
An omniscient narrator might use contractions as well as slang and dialect. In Russ Litten’s interesting book, ‘Scream if you want to go faster’ he uses an omniscient narrator that talks in a local Hull (a large English City and the European City of Culture in 2017) accent. I found this quite compelling and for me the best part of the book, but not all do, but then again I grew up there before my banishment outside the Old City walls (the location of the first battle of The English Civil War). You obviously notice these ‘voices’ more when they are colloquial. Some are hard work and require a bit of getting used to, but some work exceptionally well: Catcher in the Rye and Huckleberry Finn (Vernon God Little imitates from here) are two that spring to mind.
46. To capitalise or not? This may seem obvious−if it is a proper noun it has a capital letter. Remember at school the teacher often said, “If it is a title it should have a capital letter.” Unless it is an article: e.g. a, the; co-ordinating conjunction: e.g. but, nor, or a preposition fewer than five letters, e.g. on, at, from. ‘Scream if you want to go faster’ is a title that does not follow these rules. Should ‘teacher’ have a capital or not?, it is a job title, the key again is consistency. The difficulty comes when you look it up and there is still not consistency on the inter-web, get a dictionary out then, but the inter-web is now saying the new form is acceptable. Go with your gut instinct and don’t blink. Animals can be difficult−my editor and proofer often don’t know the answer! Give your chapter headings capital letters. But then do you put a full stop at the end? I don’t bother, again for consistency. This may again sound trivial, but when you first start out you will be flicking through books to see what the convention is.
45. It’s/its: A common mistake It’s is a contraction of it is (and it has). If you cannot expand it’s to ‘it is’ it be wrong.
Its is a possessive pronoun meaning ‘of it’ or, ‘belonging to it.’
44. Chapter headings giving the whole story away: I recently looked at very long pre-published manuscript at a writers’ group. I quickly summarised the narrative even though I had not read the novel−it had over forty chapters. They thought I had acquired magical skills, I had simply read the chapter titles and it was more than evident what would/does transpire. Be careful not to give your entire narrative away as a flash story.
On a similar note if your acknowledgements are going to reveal far too much, stick them at the end. ‘Many thanks to Acme Funeral Services for help with the embalming technicalities in chapter 7.’ Consider rephrasing if you want them at the start.
43. Not reading enough of the genre you are writing. See how established writers have crafted. You will have to do this anyway when you start off, don’t start writing until you’ve read lots: “Writers read, simple as.” A useful technique is to watch a film and ask yourself how the author did that in the book? (If in fact they did?) How did they describe that? How did they construct the dialogue at a tense moment? How much emotion and internal dialogue was exposed?, etc. You don’t even have to read the entire novel, find the relevant section. I will talk more about what these areas are later, but you will be asking yourself lots of questions, at least you should be: ‘What narrator to use?’ ‘What POV to use?’ etc, etc. I talked about this partly in blog 3: What should I do before I start? Will passively reading do it?
Remember your homework! − ‘The Lives of Others’ it will keep you gripped like a good book and will also teach you a thing or two about writing. We could even discuss empathy?
Until next time fledglings, hawks and CCTVs.
Ian M Pindar’s latest books, under his real name are: ‘Hoofing It’ and ‘Hoofed,’ the first and second novels in The Robert Knight Series and are on special offer. He has another three novels out this year.