The Mechanics of Writing: Learn the Basics!

I thought once I was a clever little writing monkey, that is, until my former literary agent, Monique Raphel High, accepted my novel for representation and told me bluntly:

“You write like a 6th Grader with a fondness for comic-book reading.”

Believe you me, I was embarrassed. I thought I wroted mo’ better than most people.

I get requests all the time from people who have confusion over syntax and grammar with their writing. With the influx of TEXTING and globalization of different writing styles, for example: American English and British English, the confusion is just getting worse.

First of all, spend the money necessary on reference works such as Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style and the latest edition of The Chicago Manual of Style. Refer to them often or their kindred!

Secondly, do not get into the mindset that you write well to begin with because you are a fiction writer and RULES DON’T APPLY TO YOU. You are wrong. Looking back over your rejections from traditional publishers/editors and literary agents, pause a moment to reflect how it might be your grammar and syntax that is causing you such failures of rejection. I find many amateurs who never workto learn proper grammar and style.

Even in the creation of art, there is conformity to norms. You must learn the rules before you can break them artfully. Ignorance of grammar and spelling has largely become the domain of smartphone texting and website chat forums; soon the written language begins to degenerate into the grunting of apes living in trees because no one wishes to learn grammar or proper language mastery. This is a DECLINE, not progress, of culture.

So, what it boils down to:

  • Do not mix national language styles. Canadian, British, and Australian English are not the same as American English. It doesn’t matter which style you wish to adopt, just so long as you remain consistent throughout the work.
  • Do not use improper slang or “text” speak in standard prose forms such as book manuscripts or short works. However, such accent can be used as flavoring for characterization or prose examples such as:

Lydia picked up her phone, surprised to see that Billy had replied so quickly. He’d texted LOL CANT WAT 2 HERE FRM U.

  • Quotations are used for many forms and expressions.

“Bob, come over here, please.” – Standard American dialogue usage

‘Bob, come over here, please.’ – Standard British dialogue usage

“You know what I said? I said, ‘Bob, come over here, please.’” – Standard American dialogue quote-within-quote

‘You know what I said? I said, “Bob, come over here, please.”’ – Standard British dialogue quote-within-quote

M Cid D’Angelo is the author of the short story, “Girl Sunday”, appearing in Eureka Literary Magazine and Calliope.

I love that song, “Summer Wind”, sung by Frank Sinatra.

Well, Teresa did tell me, “Mike, I love you though you are silly,” and I laughed!

*Notice that the comma in the last instance versus the comma in the previous example; for the title of the song, the comma was place OUTSIDE the quotes, while the comma was placed INSIDE for the dialogue. This is so as not to confuse the comma to be part of the song title (Chicago Manual of Style).

  • Be aware of the subtle differences of hyphenated words and compound words.
  • Beware of apostrophes and where they should exist.

Note that their, there, and they’re are not interchangeable.

Its is possessive: The sun shined luxuriously off its furry coat.

It’s is a contraction of it is: It’s a wonder why I put up with this.

  • Refer to basic diction and proper vocabulary in dialogue and prose and make them consistent throughout the work.

Be consistent!


About mciddangelo

"I write because I believe in literature; I believe that the art of words is louder than sound, more colorful than paintings. My novels are written not because of the pursuit of money or even success, but in the FAITH that they exalt our experiences; that not only do they give us enjoyment to read them, but they are meant to open worlds that a reader may not ever imagine." M Cid D'Angelo is published in Aiofe's Kiss, Calliope, Eureka Literary Magazine, Third Wednesday, Midway Journal, and many others. He is the author of Dead Reckoning (J Ellington Ashton Press, 2015), available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle versions.
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