Posted on July 29, 2020 at 3:13 PM by Guest Author
A great book isn’t just engaging. It’s also well written in the technical sense. Learn why good grammar is so important and what common grammatical mistakes to avoid.
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As an author (particularly one who writes fiction), your job is to take your readers on a journey — to get them so invested in your characters and absorbed in your plot that the real world disappears.
But to do that, you need to make sure your story is well executed. And that means keeping your writing clean, concise, and free of common grammatical mistakes.
You may not think the technical side of writing is as important as the creative one. After all, it’s the overall narrative that keeps readers engaged, right?
Yes and no.
The fact is that things such as sentence structure and word choice have a major impact on your work. Errors in your writing can interrupt the flow of your story, causing your readers to feel confused and frustrated.
Moreover, these blunders can affect your readers’ perception of you as an author — and not in a good way.
If you self-publish a title that hasn’t been properly edited, you run the risk of pushing away potential fans. And if you opt to go the traditional publishing route, there’s a chance your error-filled manuscript will be rejected almost immediately.
When it comes down to it, having a good grasp of grammar is essential no matter how you plan to get your book out to the masses.
To increase your chances of success as an author, you should constantly work on strengthening your writing. Further, you should be especially careful to avoid common grammatical mistakes…
Of course, even seasoned authors aren’t immune to slipups. When the ideas are flowing, you’re more focused on getting the words down than making sure everything is grammatically correct.
However, training yourself to avoid certain errors can go a long way toward tightening up your prose. Plus, it makes the editing process go a lot smoother.
With that being said, the following list covers some common grammatical mistakes that can hurt an otherwise solid story, especially when made too often.
By making yourself aware of these writing no-nos, you can keep them out of your work and boost your credibility as an author.
Let’s take a look…
1. Mixing up who and whom
Many writers are guilty of mixing up who and whom. After all, the latter isn’t often used in everyday conversation.
But if you want to make your writing as clear and accurate as possible, it’s in your best interest to use the right one at the right time.
The good news is there’s a simple solution to avoid this mix-up. Just remember to use who when you’re referring to the subject of a sentence and whom when you’re talking about the object.
If you’re ever unsure, try replacing the word with a personal pronoun…
If he or she makes sense, then who is the answer.
If him or her reads correctly, then it’s whom.
2. Using I instead of me
A lot of people assume I should be used when you talk about yourself and another person.
Chances are it’s been drilled into your head that because I sounds proper, it’s always correct. However, this just isn’t the case.
Ultimately, it comes down to how the construct is being used in the sentence. If the narrator and a friend are acting as the subject of the sentence, it’s I. If, together, they’re acting as the object of the sentence, it’s me.
“Bob and I went to the store.”
“He gave the groceries to Bob and me.”
A helpful trick is to take the friend out of the equation to see which word reads better.
3. Not maintaining parallel structure
When you’re writing a sentence with items in a series, it’s all too easy to forget about maintaining parallel structure. This means the items don’t begin with the same part of speech.
As a result, the sentence may end up sounding awkward (or just plain wrong) to a reader.
The key is to make every item similar in form. So, if the first begins with a verb, the rest should follow that pattern.
“She liked reading, hiking, and cooking.” (Not “She liked books, hiking, and to cook.”)
Taking the extra step to keep a list of items or constructions in parallel can help prevent confusion among your readers.
4. Failing to catch dangling modifiers
One of the most common grammatical mistakes made by writers is the misuse of modifiers.
A dangling modifier refers to a descriptive word or phrase that doesn’t modify the word it should. Sometimes, the word it’s intended to modify doesn’t appear in the sentence at all.
“Feeling tired, a nap sounded great.”
To prevent dangling modifiers from interrupting the flow of your story, make sure the modifier is applied to and comes immediately before the proper word.
You may need to shuffle things around a bit to make it happen, but it’s well worth the effort. Otherwise, you could end up with a major snafu on your hands.
5. Including multiple verb tenses in a clause
Using multiple verb tenses in a single clause can puzzle and frustrate readers. That’s because doing so makes it hard to understand when an action is meant to take place.
It also introduces inconsistency in your writing, which is something you want to avoid.
Sometimes it makes sense to have verbs in different tenses in one sentence — if, for example, it’s clear one action had to come before another.
Generally, however, you should aim to write verbs in the same tense. That way, there’s a logical sequence of events that readers can follow.
6. Introducing subject-verb disagreement
Making sure that verbs agree with the subjects they follow is probably a rule you learned early on. Yet, subject-verb disagreement remains one of the most common grammatical mistakes.
Therefore, it doesn’t hurt to get a quick refresher.
A singular subject should be followed up with a singular verb.
A plural subject should be followed up with a plural verb.
If you’re ever unsure about which type of verb to use with a prepositional phrase, look at the noun that comes before the preposition.
For especially tricky nouns, consult a trusted grammarian or language resource.
7. Making vague pronoun references
Whenever you make vague pronoun references, it forces the reader to guess as to what or to whom the pronoun is referring (the antecedent).
Even though you may think it’s obvious, your reader may not. That’s why you should be as clear as possible, leaving no room for ambiguity.
A good practice is to highlight the pronouns you use and ensure each one has a specific antecedent. If there’s a possibility your readers may be confused, replace it with the name or word that applies.
There may end up being some repetition, but it’s much better than the alternative.
If you want to create well-written stories that readers not only enjoy but also understand clearly, you need to work on improving your writing skills.
That means learning everything you can about the technical side of writing. However, it also means going the extra mile when it comes to reviewing each book you write.
Take advantage of helpful resources.
There are tons of writing resources out there, many of which are free. By reading and studying these resources on a regular basis, you can increase your knowledge of grammar and mechanics.
As a result, your writing will become clearer and more accurate.
Use the tools that are at your disposal.
In addition to articles and guides, there are tools you can use to tighten up your writing and prevent common grammatical mistakes.
Do some research on the best tools and software for writers. And don’t forget to make good use of the spellchecker in your word processor!
Participate in writing groups and workshops.
By attending workshops and joining writing groups, you can take your writing skills to the next level.
For starters, investing in your craft can have a long-term impact on your writing. Further, it can help you improve on individual projects by applying the advice and direction you receive from others.
If you truly want to make a career out of your passion, this is a step worth taking.
Hire a professional copy editor.
If it’s within your budget, hiring a professional editor to proof your work is a wise move. A copy editor who has significant experience with the technical side of writing can help eliminate common grammatical mistakes from your text.
Moreover, they can work with you to ensure your book is as stylistically perfect as possible.
Get feedback from friends and family members.
Lastly, it never hurts to get feedback from friends and family members about your work. When you’ve finished a draft of your book, hand it off and request their honest input.
Ask them to take note of any confusing sentences, awkward phrasing, or anything else that interrupted their reading.
When you familiarize yourself with some of the most common grammatical mistakes out there, it becomes a lot easier to avoid them.
By reviewing this list and taking additional steps to prevent these errors, you can dramatically improve your work.
As a result, you can look forward to stronger stories and happier readers!
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