Sometimes we’re so focused on the big picture—our plot and characters—that we miss obvious clues that more editing is required. My July 16th, 2009 post, Look for the Silly Stuff: Exclamation Points, discussed the overuse of that popular punctuation mark. Here are a few other things you need to consider.
1. Bad grammar and lousy punctuation. If you don’t know the basic rules of grammar and punctuation, you need to take a class, buy a good book and study it, or choose one of many excellent online resources to hone your writing skills. I like Mignon Fogarty’s Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips™ for Better Writing and her website by the same name. Guide to Grammar and Writing is a website sponsored by the Capital Community College Foundation. I’ve found it to be very useful.
2. When Microsoft Word underlines a word in red, it means the software thinks you have misspelled the word. The error might be a typo. The word might really be misspelled. Or you may have used a correct word or spelling that is not in Word’s dictionary.
If you right click on the underlined word, an option box will pop up giving you a few alternate word/spelling choices and the ability to add the word to the dictionary so future uses will not be underlined in red. This is helpful for names of characters or fictional places, creatures, and objects (as in fantasy novels). Always turn to a good dictionary to verify spelling.
3. When Microsoft Word underlines a fragment or sentence in green, it means the software thinks your grammar is incorrect. You need to check it out and revise the sentence if necessary. Right click on the underlined phrase or sentence and an option box will give you a brief description of what might be wrong. If you’ve intentionally used incorrect grammar for emphasis, or in dialogue, you may select “Ignore Once” in the option box to make the green line disappear.
4. Two words, one word, or hyphenated word? This is a trickier problem. Whenever you have a noun that is made up of two words, and you’re not 100% sure whether the noun should be two words, one word, or hyphenated, it’s best to look it up in an official dictionary. Two words that tripped me up were rearview (as in rearview mirror) and backseat. Also remember that your word might be hyphenated if used as an adjective, but not when used as a noun.
Here are a few other examples: ape-man, backstory, bookseller, chain-smoker, deathbed, fishwife, safe-conduct, woodshed, and trashman (Word thought trashman was wrong, but Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary assured me it was correct). For more on this spelling puzzle, see Dani Greer’s posts, This is a test, just a test on April 22, 2009 and Spelling Test Answers on April 23, 2009.
Patricia Stoltey is a mystery author, blogger, and critique group facilitator. Active in promoting Colorado authors, she also helps local unpublished writers learn the critical skills of manuscript revision and self-editing. For information about Patricia’s Sylvia and Willie mystery series, visit her website and her blog. You can also find her on Facebook (Patricia Stoltey) and Twitter (@PStoltey).