Showing posts with label editing tips. Show all posts
Showing posts with label editing tips. Show all posts

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Avoiding Common Punctuation Errors Part 6: Hyphens in Compound Adjectives

Compound Adjectives before Nouns

If punctuation is a guide to help your reader understand more quickly and easily, then hyphens can be very useful signposts.  One of the most important and overlooked functions of the hyphen is to warn the reader, "Hey, I'm a compound adjective!"  Unfamiliar with the terminology?  It doesn't matter.  Your readers' brains are familiar with the reality.

Take this classic example: 

Hyphens, just like commas, can decide who lives and who dies.

Hyphens in Compound Adjectives

A compound adjective is two words that function as one word to modify a noun.  In "man-eating alligator," man and eating work together as one unit.  It's not a man alligator and an eating alligator.  It's a man-eating alligator.

Rule:  If a compound adjective comes before a noun, you can (and often should) hyphenate it. 

A thin-bladed knife
A 30-mile race
A nervous-looking boy
A leather-bound book
Bird-like legs
A well-known politician

Exception : If the compound adjective uses an adverb ending in –ly, don't hyphenate. This is because the –ly already alerts the reader that this will be a compound adjective.

A badly cooked steak
A wildly painted car
A quickly written memo

Note:  Some people prefer to leave out the hyphen if the meaning is clear without, but that can be dangerous.  The meaning is obvious to you, since you wrote it.  The reader doesn't have the same advantage.  So be careful if you decide to omit these hyphens.  And always be on the lookout for situations where the lack of hyphen can completely change the meaning, as in the examples below.

Hyphens Clear up Ambiguity

From Grammar Monkeys:

Small-state senator (a senator from a small state)
Small state senator (a state senator who is short and thin)

A violent weather conference (a weather conference where people punch each other a lot)
A violent-weather conference (where meteorologists professionally discuss violent weather)

A hot yoga teacher (an attractive yoga teacher)
A hot-yoga teacher (one who teaches yoga in a purposely hot environment, as in the style of Bikram yoga)

From (a great resource)

I have a few more important things to do. (A few more tasks remain on my list of important things to do)
I have a few more-important things to do. (I can't do what you suggest because I have tasks that are more important.)

He returned the stolen vehicle report. (At first, most of us will think he returned the vehicle he stole.  Then we come to "report" and we're confused.)
He returned the stolen-vehicle report. (Here it's clear that what he's returning is a report about a stolen vehicle.  The vehicle is probably still missing.)


Students who live in two parent homes (students who split their time between two homes where parents also live)
Students who live in two-parent homes (students who live in a home with both parents)

From Wikipedia:

Zero-liability protection (you are not responsible in any way if something bad happens)
Zero liability protection (you have no zero protection if something bad happens)

Examples I've come across lately in reading:

Hard sell tactics (selling tactics which are difficult to perform)
Hard-sell tactics (aggressive selling tactics which perhaps play on the fears of the potential buyer)

A long deserted chamber (a long—perhaps narrow—chamber that happens to be deserted at the moment)
A long-deserted chamber (a chamber that has been deserted for a long time)

Hyphens Make Reading Smoother

Here are some other examples that aren't so ambiguous but that will still often trip up the reader for a moment if you leave out the hyphen.  Making your reader stop to think and re-read is something you should reserve for clever plot twists, elegant and thought-provoking lines, or intriguing ideas.  Don't make them stop and re-read because of lacking punctuation. 

Steel-plated boots
Custom-made device
Death-dealing steel
Decent-sized vessel
Grey-haired man
Sword-shaped hole
North-facing terrace
Cream-colored stones
Dirt-eating scum
Fire-lit faces

Remember that if you want to wrap your reader in your characters' world, you need to provide as few pointless distractions as possible.  And unclear punctuation is one of the biggest culprits in the world of pointless distraction.

For more in this series:
Avoiding Common Punctuation Errors Pt 1:  Commas Save Lives; the Vocative Comma
Avoiding Common Punctuation Errors Pt 2:  Commas and Periods in Dialogue
Avoiding Common Punctuation Errors Pt 3:  Commas with Participial Phrases
Avoiding Common Punctuation Errors Pt 4:  The Mysterious Case of the Missing Question Mark
Avoiding Common Punctuation Errors Pt 5:  Adjectives with Commas

Melinda Brasher currently teaches English as a second language in the beautiful Czech Republic.  She loves the sound of glaciers calving and the smell of old books.  Her travel articles and short fiction appear in Go NomadInternational LivingElectric SpecIntergalactic Medicine Show, and others.  For an e-book collection of some of her favorite published pieces, check out Leaving Home.  For something a little more medieval, read her YA fantasy novel, Far-KnowingVisit her online at

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Avoiding Common Punctuation Errors Part 5: Adjectives and Commas

Image by Peter Arkle

I'm back with more punctuation tips!

Commas between two adjectives

When you have two adjectives in a row, sometimes you put a comma between and sometimes you don't. The fancy grammar explanation has to do with whether the adjectives are coordinate or non-coordinate, and their underlying semantic categories, but you don't really need to know all that. All you need is the rule of thumb.

Rule of Thumb:

If you can REVERSE the two words or put AND between them, and it still sounds okay, you need the comma (to show that the adjectives are equal).

If you can't reverse or put AND, you shouldn't put a comma.

Example 1:
The slippery, slimy frog (good)
The slimy, slippery frog (good)
The slippery and slimy frog (good)
You need a comma between

Example 2;
The big foreign car (good)
The foreign big car (sounds weird and unnatural)
The big and foreign car (sounds a little weird)
Don't put a comma

NOTE: If you've done the tests and it's still not clear (maybe one test sounds a little awkward, but not totally wrong), it can probably go either way, depending on what you want to emphasize. Just make the call and then don't worry too much about it.


For each sentence, insert or delete commas between adjectives as necessary.

1) I hated the stupid iron bars on the windows.
2) She worked twelve hours a day in a cold wet cave.
3) He sang to his laughing, gurgling baby.
4) They ate delicious, ham sandwiches in a bright airy diner.
5) The sleek, silk dress must have cost a fortune.
6) The fluffy purring kitten softened his hard unyielding heart.
7) We suffered through the long boring meeting.
8) They all understood the complicated, geometry problem.
9) No one wanted the old, beat-up, lawn chair.
10) Samantha's wide, happy smile shone like the warm summer sun.

Practice ANSWERS (Highlight everything from here to "End Practice Answers" to reveal them.)
1) I hated the stupid iron bars on the windows. (Correct as is)
2) She worked twelve hours a day in a cold, wet cave.
3) He sang to his laughing, gurgling baby. (Correct as is)
4) They ate delicious ham sandwiches in a bright, airy diner.
5) The sleek silk dress must have cost a fortune. (This one's a little iffy, but probably you don't want a comma because "silk dress" is one unit.  If you think "dress" is independent, and "sleek" and "silk" modify it equally, you can put the comma.  If it were "silky," you'd surely put a comma)
6) The fluffy, purring kitten softened his hard, unyielding heart.
7) We suffered through the long, boring meeting.
8) They all understood the complicated geometry problem.
9) No one wanted the old, beat-up lawn chair. (the comma between "old" and "beat-up" is correct, but you can't reverse "beat-up" and "lawn" (The lawn, beat-up chair), so you don't need a comma there.
10) Samantha's wide, happy smile shone like the warm summer sun. (Correct as is)
End Practice Answers
Any you disagree with?  Let me know below.  Because we all know punctuation can be slippery.

For more:  
Avoiding Common Punctuation Errors Pt 1:  Commas Save Lives; the Vocative Comma
Avoiding Common Punctuation Errors Pt 2:  Commas and Periods in Dialogue
Avoiding Common Punctuation Errors Pt 3:  Commas with Participial Phrases
Avoiding Common Punctuation Errors Pt 4:  The Mysterious Case of the Missing Question Mark

Melinda Brasher currently teaches English as a second language in the beautiful Czech Republic.  She loves the sound of glaciers calving and the smell of old books.  Her travel articles and short fiction appear in Go NomadInternational LivingElectric SpecIntergalactic Medicine Show, and others.  For an e-book collection of some of her favorite published pieces, check out Leaving Home.  For something a little more medieval, read her YA fantasy novel, Far-KnowingVisit her online at

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Avoiding Common Punctuation Errors Part 1: The Vocative Comma

Commas Save Lives

Your story is written.  You have compelling characters, a rich setting, deep symbolism, and a perfectly twisty plot.  You're ready to share your creation with the world.  But take a moment to consider the underrated art of punctuation.

Punctuation isn't a ridiculous torture device invented by English teachers.  It's a guide for your reader.  Used properly, those little commas, periods, and quotation marks help your reader interpret your words correctly the first time.  After all, you masterpiece isn't a masterpiece if people keep getting tripped up by punctuation (or lack thereof). 

Today we'll consider just one little rule, simple but often ignored.

The Vocative Comma:
When you address someone or something directly, use commas to set off the name or title. 
    Your car is ready, Mr. President.
    Alex, turn off that horrid music.
    At the end of the day, folks, the only thing that matters is how many people we help.
    Stupid computer, can't you just work right this once?

When authors forget this rule, at best the result is clunky or awkward.  At worst, it creates an entirely different meaning.  Here's the most classic example: 
           Let's eat Grandpa.
           Let's eat, Grandpa.
If your character is a heartless cannibal, the first version is fine.  Otherwise, you need the comma.

More Examples:

I don’t know Mom (character denying any familiarity with his mother)
I don't know, Mom (character telling his mother that he doesn't know something)

You are Sigmund.  (Revealing to an amnesiac that his name is Sigmund)
You are, Sigmund.  (Answering Sigmund's question, "Who's the crazy one here?")

Children put your toys away.  (You have very young servants who clean up your toys for you)
Children, put your toys away.  (You're telling your kids to put their toys away). 

I killed, John (character admitting to John that he killed someone)
I killed John (character admitting to the police that he murdered John)

You called me father (I'm not really your father, but it touches me that you consider me like a father.)
You called me, father.  (You're my dad, and I'm returning your phone call.)

I'll see you in February June. (You're a little confused about dates)
I'll see you in February, June (You have an appointment in February with your friend June)

And that man is the truth. (You're apparently looking at the god of truth or something)
And that, man, is the truth. (Man, I'm telling the truth)

Don't marry, Alice (Alice, stay single!  Marriage is for the birds.)
Don't marry Alice (Alice is bad news.  Don't marry her.  Marry me instead.)

Conversely, if you use the comma to set off a name or title when you're not addressing someone directly, you get results like this:

Those irresponsible cows!  Why won't they keep their dogs under control?

If you want your masterpiece to shine, pay attention to punctuation, and join me next month for more common punctuation errors.

Avoiding Incorrect Punctuation Pt 2:  Commas and Periods in Dialogue

Melinda Brasher wrote the cover story in this month's edition of Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show.  Check out the artwork here.  She loves writing, but can't read anymore without unintentionally editing, and loves a good punctuation or grammar joke.  Nerd power!  Check out her author page at Amazon.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Power of Less

I love words.  Because I was so enamored with words, before I could read, I would memorize each page in a book. Then if my parents weren't available, I could "read" to myself. Words were my friends. The more, the merrier. When I became a writer I learned that less is more. 

I don't naturally do well with the writer's scissors. I'm wordy. Most of my edits involve simplifying phrases and cutting unnecessary words . For instance, my opening sentence initially was "I love words, be they written or spoken." Although I liked that last half, the sentence only required the first three words. I have four tools tips that help me make perform surgery on my words.

Create your own cut list. Make a list of common words you can cut. Some examples are:  that, who, there (there is, there are), and, very, really, just, quite, perhaps, but, however, well, also. Using a word search I find each instance of a word. If I can rewrite the sentence or it holds it's essence without that word, it hits the cutting floor. 

Replace or cut repetitive words and phrases. In each piece, we all have words or phrases we overuse. Highlight those words or phrases, then either replace or cut it. In one short story I was able to reduce my word count by fifteen by removing the word apparently. 

Cut by 25%. I write devotions so this is a bit easier for me. If my devotion is 400 words, I cut it down to 300 words. I repeat the process until it is tight but with soul. For novels, you can do this by chapter.

Read it aloud. You can find word flow issues when you read aloud. I've cut words by rearranging and removing sentences that broke up the flow of the piece. This is not always a quick process. But it's worth the effort. 

After applying these tips, you'll find that you didn't need the words that met the scissors. Writing for clarity means determining what's dead wood and removing it. It's not always easy, but definitely necessary. 

About the Author:

Marietta "Mari" Taylor is the the author of Surviving Unemployment Devotions To Go. Find out more about Mari at her blog or her website,

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Tips on Editing: Part 1


Tips on Editing: Part 1
What is Editing?
By Nancy Carty Lepri

How many of us have delved into a good book only to find typos and/or glaring mistakes? I know it has happened to me on several occasions and with well-known authors. It makes me wonder who, if anyone, has edited or proofread this book before it goes to publication.

Seeing I am certified as an editor, I thought I would pass on some of my lessons to you with a round of articles about how to be more effective at editing manuscripts.

What is an editor’s job? First, you have to clean up any “messes.” And, remember the work belongs to the author, so if you are editing another’s work, do not try to rewrite it to your taste. 

The Publication Process:
1.       The author finishes the final draft and a publisher accepts it, it first goes to the editor.
2.       The editor reads the text two or more times, correcting errors on content, grammar, punctuation, and typos, while working closely with the author.
3.       The next step goes to the book designer, where the artistic element is coordinated to enhance the text and to design the cover. Then proofs are printed.
4.       Book designers usually make proofs from the computer then send them to the author and the editor to double check for mistakes.
5.       When the proofs are approved, they go to the printer to become the final product.
6.       The final product results in the book.
The publisher is involved throughout this whole process and gives the final okay to the editor, book designer, and printer before the book is released.
1.        Acquisitions Editor: this is the person who look for authors—basically they are agents or publishers looking for marketable books.
2.       Developmental Editor: this editor works hand in hand with authors to help with rewrites, research, character development, plots and strengthen weaknesses.
3.       Production Editor:  this editor has strong analytical and organizational skills needed to get a book published. He or she manages the manuscript from editing through printing. Some production editors may be book designers or act as liaison to the printer.
4.       Book Designer: these folks are knowledgeable in computer programs to format and design books.
5.       Managing Editor: this editor manages the entire publishing process from accepted manuscript to finished product.
6.       Proofreader: though this “job” is practically extinct due to computers, proofreaders compare galleys to the edited manuscript, looking for things that do not reflect the editor’s marks as well as any typos and misspellings.
7.       Other editors: these include photo editors, subsidiary rights editors, fact checkers and permissions editors; basically jobs that are “in house” at a publishing company.

Light Editor responsibilities:
1.       Spelling
2.       Grammar
3.       Capitalization
4.       Punctuation
5.       Numbered lists
6.       Table of Contents
7.       Table and Figure numbers

Medium Editing responsibilities: correctness and consistency of…
1.       Numbers
2.       Abbreviations
3.       Gender Neutrality
4.       Content and Style
a.       Audience: does the text speak to its intended audience?
b.      Logic and clarity: are the ideas presented logically and clearly?
c.       Usage: are the right words used to convey the intended meaning?
d.      Format: are titles, headers, sub headers, lists, tables and figures set up consistently?

Heavy Editing responsibilities: the need to look for and eliminate the following transgressions:
1.       Redundancies
2.       Wordiness, triteness
3.       Vague generalizations
4.       Weak sentence style
5.       Organizational weakness
6.       Lack of focus

1.       Look it up: make sure facts, spelling, etc. are correct.
2.       Be consistent:  this is especially true for numbers and abbreviations.
3.       Just because you see something in the “New York Times” doesn’t mean it’s right: even the “New York Times” can make mistakes, so make sure your work is accurate.
4.       Editing is subjective: the need to be aware of current word usage as well as evolving usage and be flexible enough to adapt to the changes. This means the rules of punctuation, grammar, style and usage are not completely rigid and writers and editors have latitude in deciding how to proceed.
5.       Perfection is the enemy of done:  every editor longs for a perfect edit, but that is next to impossible. You will always find something you should fix, tweak, or finesse. If you keep looking for perfection, you will never finish your edit.

These rules are all the basics of an editor’s job, whether you are a professional editor or just going over your own manuscript. My next “installment” will introduce the tools editors use to do their job.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Checklist for Self-Editing

Here is a handy checklist from Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. This is a book I recommend to my editing clients and something I like to look at for my own work every so often.

• How many "ing" and "as" phrases do you write? Remember, the only ones that count are the ones that place a bit of action in a subordinate clause.

• How about "ly" adverbs. Both tied to your dialogue and within your descriptions and narration.

• Do you have a lot of short sentences, both within your dialogue and within your description and narration?

• Do you use a lot of italics? We mean a lot of italics. And you don’t use many exclamation points, do you?!!

• Are there any metaphors or flowery phrases you’re particularly proud of. Do they come at key times during your plot? If so, think about getting rid of them.

• How much time have you spent moving your characters around? Do you cut from location to location, or do you fill in all the space in between?

• How much detail have you included in describing our character’s action? Try cutting some of the detail and see if the actions are still clear.

• Take a look at your flashbacks. How often are you interrupting the forward flow of your story? Do you have flashbacks at more than one level—that is, flashbacks from flashbacks? It you spend nearly as much time in the past as in the present, take a look at each flashback individually. If it were cut, would the present story be hard to follow?

• Keep in mind what you’re trying to do with each paragraph—what character point you’re trying to establish, what sort of mood you’re trying to create, what background you’re trying to suggest. In how many different ways are you accomplishing each of these?

• If more than one way, try reading the passage without the weakest approach and see if it isn’t more effective.

• Do you have more than one chapter that accomplishes the same thing?

• Is there a plot device or stylistic effect you are particularly pleased with? How often do you use it?

• Keep a lookout for unintentional word repeats. The more striking a word or phrase is, the more jarring it will be if you repeat it.

A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, has recently won the national WILLA Award. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.

Monday, February 13, 2012

My Three Favorite Editing Tips

My Three Favorite Editing Tips

I find it hard not to edit while I write. But we all know we're not supposed to do that. The best writers will tell you to write, let it sit for a day or so and then edit. But what's the best way to edit? Well, everyone has their preferences. I have three techniques I like to use. They aren't the only ones, just my favorites. Maybe you'll want to try them too.
  1. First I print the pages I plan to edit, making sure the pages numbers are included. Next I jumble the pages up. Because I wrote the words, I know how they should flow. That makes it easy to miss things like awkward phrasing. By reading the pages out of order, it really allows me to concentrate on just what is on that page. I'm not so much worried about how it fits with the other pages at this point. I'm concentrating more on finding repetitive words or phrases and awkward and run-on sentences.
  2. Read your writing out loud. Sometimes what sounds good in your head, doesn't sound so great when it's actually spoken. You'll be surprised what you can find and tighten up after reading your page aloud. 
  3. For each printed page, look for overused words. I have a pack of highlighters just for this. I'm the queen of the word "that". To make sure I'm not using it too frequently, or at all, I go through the page and highlight each instance. Then I decide if each will be cut, replaced or left as is. I write devotions so I use "God" frequently. I highlight that word in a different color. That shows me where I need to replace it with another name like "Lord" or "Heavenly Father". It's helpful that I have compiled a list of words I tend to abuse. But I'm also on the lookout for new offenders.
These three tips have made editing a more thorough process. What editing techniques do you use? Which are your favorites? 

Marietta Taylor is an author and speaker. She is the author of Surviving Unemployment:Devotions to Go. Marietta is a monthly blogger at the Go ask Mom Blog at Her tagline is Mom of Teens. She was also a contributing author to Penned From The Heart Vol XV. Marietta has a bachelor's degree in Biology from the University of Illinois-Chicago. Visit Marietta at or or email her at

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