How to write like a pro
So you want to write like a pro and have composed a story full of terrific characters and plot twists. But how can you be sure your novel is grammatically perfect?
Does how you write make sense?
My first piece of advice is to look at your writing like you are reading it for the first time. Does your manuscript make sense and what would a complete stranger think of it?
If you need some assistance or reassurance regarding your punctuation and dialogue, then here are a few simple rules you can follow. Remember, punctuation is there to create consistency and plays a vital role in limiting any vagueness or confusion. This, in turn, gives the reader a level of confidence to keep turning the pages of your writing. Who can argue with that?
Let’s begin with good grammar
Let me make things easier by beginning with the most common signs that you are making errors with your writing.. Believe you me, I have seen these mistakes on a daily basis, and no matter how good the plot is, or how engaging the story sounds, agents and publishers are likely to reject. Repeat the mantra: IT MUST MAKE GRAMMATICAL SENSE!
Commas: usage and abusage
Make use of the comma, because they are superstars when it comes to breaking up a long sentence. Without them, your writing will lack fluidity. However, by applying them, you can break up your words into short, sharp, staccato style sentences that allow for a pause. This enables the reader to comprehend what they are reading. Literary agents and publishers are extremely fond of the comma, so use it freely. Give them a reason to enjoy your manuscript by showing them that you are an astute writer.
Make better use of full stops when you write
Breaking up sentences is far better than repeated full stops. Of course, the full stop is essential, especially when writing for young audiences, as this requires short sentences that function to quickly gain the attention of the reader. But if you are writing for YA or adult fiction, use them carefully. Think about what your sentence is saying and to whom.
Common errors with apostrophes
The most common and notable error that I witnessed as a Submissions Editor was the great ‘it’s’ and ‘its’. It isn’t too difficult, and one way to establish which one you should use to work this out is if it is a possessive noun.
Its means the thing belongs to it. The wildcat took the food to its den. Its prey was easy to catch.
It’s means it is snowing. It’s what she had hoped for. It’s the perfect day for a snowball fight.
If you remain confused the best user-friendly guide is by Lynne Truss – Eats, Shoots & Leaves. It is also a very amusing text to have by your side whilst you write and correct your manuscript. Get this right, and you won’t have literary agents howling in despair. It is as simple as that!
What you should do with hyphens?
Hyphens can be so much fun providing they are used correctly. However, if you are in any doubt, look the word you wish to hyphenate up. A hyphen (-) is a punctuation mark that is used to join words or parts of words. Examples of hyphenated compound words are:
How to correctly apply a semi-colon
Think of the semi-colon (;) as the third way. They are more sophisticated than a comma or full stop and add a sense of skilfulness to your writing. For instance, a semi-colon links two sentences together, If used sparingly, it functions as a powerful punctuation mark. In other words, be daring and get those literary agents excited!
When to use a colon
Use colons to introduce a part of a sentence to another. It is that simple. Try it and see how it works.
Create great dialogue!
Dialogue brings a manuscript to life. In other words, how characters speak, what they say and who they say it to can make the difference between a publishing deal and immediate rejection. Dialogue is the reason we get hooked on a particular book. Character motivation and intention can speak volumes… well… as long as it is punctuated correctly.
- Use single quotation marks. When dialogue is followed by said do not capitalise the S.
- Dialogue counts as new paragraphs, so it should be indented.
- If the speaker quotes another person within the dialogue, double quotations marks are then necessary.
- When a descriptive line interrupts speech by one character, and then that speech continues, this is one paragraph. Begin your next paragraph with the next speaker.
Here is an example of how dialogue should be written.
‘ This manuscript could have made it’, said the editor, sighing, as she looked over at the slush pile.
‘I agree’, smiled the CEO of a well-established publishing house. He walked purposely across the office to the waste paper bin and wistfully dropped the manuscript into it. ‘The thing is’, he said thoughtfully, ‘without the senseless soul-destroying punctuation mistakes, it had the potential to be a work of genius’.
‘If only it was fit for purpose’, exclaimed the editor, ‘the author could have been an overnight success.’
‘Indeed’! laughed the CEO.
‘Another one bites the dust’, said the editor shrugging her shoulders.
They both walked breezily from the office to the lift and pressed ground floor, before walking into a hazy London sunset and instantly forgetting the manuscript had ever existed.
Need further help?
Writing a novel can be incredibly time consuming. Getting a literary agent to look at it can be difficult. Achieving the intoxicating heights of publication can be almost impossible. If you are feeling overwhelmed by your lack of punctuation and dialogue expertise, then consider contacting me by clicking here.
I have several packages to suit all budgets and levels, and I can guarantee that your manuscript will return to you much improved. Furthermore, I will not only correct the punctuation and dialogue errors, but will share endless ideas and suggestions with you. This will give you the best chance of gaining the attention of a literary agent. Click here to my homepage to download my free brochure on the different styles of editing, or drop me a line to discover how I can help you master the craft of writing.