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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

How to improve your grammar, as you write

Today, I have a few writing tips for you. Mostly I'll focus on improving your grammar (perhaps I should call it prose). And here's a little secret before we begin, you can do these things right as you are creating your documents (in my case manuscripts).

Understanding Word

First off, many of us create using some type of Word program. Perhaps it's Microsoft Word itself (at least one of the various versions of this program available). Did you know there's also something called Microsoft Word Online? A Word program that you never have to download to your computer. I happen to use Word for Mac; it's not as robust and full of features as the standard Word version, but I like it nonetheless.

We all know, or at least we should know, that when you misspell a word in this program, a red line pops up under the word. Highlight that word and you can find correct spellings 99% of the time. As an aside, many times I get the dreaded No Suggestion comment, instead of two or three suggested spellings. All this means is that I've mistyped the intended word so badly even a highly enhanced computer program can't figure out what I'm trying to convey.

You should also know that Word tries to tell you when your sentences don't make sense. Some will say, "Really?" Yes, really folks.

As you're creating, you'll notice a green line pop up occasionally under a sentence. This means that your sentence is not structurally sound - your grammar has an error. Sometimes there will be Consider Revising. Oh, that's a lot of help. So my sentence is fragmented, and it needs revision. What the heck is a fragmented sentence anyway, and how can I fix it?

One method is to read the passage aloud, and see if you can talk your way to a better sentence. Early on in 2013 I did this a lot. Sometimes it works, and the foul green line disappears. More often than not, my fixes are just as bad as the original version.

Ever Heard of Grammarly?

Grammarly is a software package that "Checks your grammar right from your browser or Microsoft Office. Improve your writing in emails, documents, social media posts, messages, and more." It is, for me at least, the bee's knees!

Even after I've eliminated every error that I can find in my manuscripts, I always run each chapter through Grammarly before I send it out for beta-reading. The program helps me eliminate passive phrases, mis-used words, missing commas, poorly constructed compound sentences, and much, much more. In short, Grammarly makes me look twice as good as my rough draft would show.

There are other programs out the that do the same function. To list just a few there is: White Smoke, Writer's Workbench, Right Writer, and so on. Just search "writing enhancement software" in your browser, and all sorts of choices will pop up.

A Quick thought on Scrivener

Recently I began using a more robust writing software named Scrivener. While the jury is still out on it's true value for me, I will say that I like it - at first blush.

Positives - Create chapters and even scenes, all in one place. No more having a separate Word folder for each chapter (and then group of chapters as you combine). The same misspelling warning, (the thin red line) as found in Word, is embedded in Scrivener. And a big plus, I can keep all of my research and character sketches right in my manuscript file. No more searching for this folder or that file. Everything I need is in the left-hand drop down menu for my immediate use.

Negatives - First off, there's lots of options I just can't use. It's like a Ford Focus driver jumping into a Ferrari; there are just so many bells and whistles that you're not used to. Also, some of the document formatting tools aren't very user-friendly. Which also reminds me - their user manual needs an update. I have yet to be able to use that piece of literature.

But, and I say this again, I like the tool all-in-all.

There are lots of tools available for every writer of every level. You just need to find them, and then consistently use them. At the end of the day these tools make your editor's job a whole lot easier. Oh yeah, don't forget to use an editor. Another set of professional eyes needs to review your manuscript before you hit the publish button. My editors are worth their weight in gold.


Until next week, keep enjoying winter. I'm using it to read a couple of classics over the next month: Joseph Heller's Catch-22, and, 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King.



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