Chris Saylor

Commonly Confused Words of the Month: “I Could Care Less”

editors-cornerBy Chris Saylor

Remember back in my first post, when I told you that I believe you need to know the rules so that you can know when and how to break them? In my Commonly Confused Words of the Month feature, I’m going to be going over words and phrases that you might want to use in dialogue to show something about your character, but you never want to use elsewhere.

This month I’ll be looking at the phrase I could care less.

The correct phrase to use is actually I couldn’t care less. This is because I couldn’t care less is what you would say to show that you really have no thoughts left to give for whatever it is you’re discussing. You’re showing the maximum amount of apathy that you can possibly show.

I could care less, on the other hand, indicates that you still have some regard for the situation at hand. You have thoughts left to give for whatever it is you’re discussing. You’re showing that you still care about the situation at least a little bit.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most you could care about something and 0 meaning you don’t care at all about something, I could care less means you fall in the 1 to 10 range, and I couldn’t care less means you’re at 0.

This is not a regional thing. It is more common to hear this phrase misused in some regions, but could and couldn’t cannot mean the same thing or language ceases to have any meaning at all.

Is there a word or phrase that you often hear that bothers you? Share it in the comments below and I’ll be sure to address it.

Every Saturday for the foreseeable future, I’ll be here in the Editor’s Corner, simplifying some of these grammar concepts for you and showing you how they specifically apply to your fiction. Coming up next week is The Importance of Using Contractions.

Want to hire Chris for a proofread or copy edit? You can find out more about him at https://saylorediting.wordpress.com, or you can email him to talk about rates and availability at christopher.saylor21 [at] gmail.com. You might also want to check out the book he co-wrote with Marcy, Grammar for Fiction Writers, available at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, or Apple iBooks.

Image Credit: Dave Di Biase/www.freeimages.com

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Using Whom in Fiction

editors-cornerBy Chris Saylor

Deciding whether to use who or whom is one of those tricky areas of writing. How do you keep track of which word goes where? The answer is actually pretty simple: who is used as a subject, while whom is used as an object.

One way to remember when to use these words is to look at the words being referred to or the words that could fit in the same spot. For example, you would use whom in the same place you would use him or them. On the other hand, you would use who in the same place as he or she. It’s not always that simple, but that’s a good way to remember. For example:

Who:

“Who ate the last piece of cake?” I asked. “It was supposed to be mine.”

(If you answered that question, you’d answer “He ate the last piece of cake” and then point your finger at my father-in-law.)

Whom:

“To whom does this cell phone belong?” asked Mrs. Rodriguez.

(The answer would be “The cell phone belongs to him.”)

However, in one of my first posts, I talked about breaking grammar rules. In fiction, you can probably safely use who in most cases, but you could use whom in dialogue to show a character that is pretentious or an old-school English teacher.

Do you have any tricks for deciding when to use who or whom that you would like to share? If so, add it to the comments!

Every Saturday for the foreseeable future, I’ll be here in the Editor’s Corner, simplifying some of these grammar concepts for you and showing you how they specifically apply to your fiction. Coming up next week is Commonly Confused Words of the Month (I Could Care Less).

Want to hire Chris for a proofread or copy edit? You can find out more about him at https://saylorediting.wordpress.com, or you can email him to talk about rates and availability at christopher.saylor21 [at] gmail.com. You might also want to check out the book he co-wrote with Marcy, Grammar for Fiction Writers, available at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, or Apple iBooks.

Image Credit: Dave Di Biase/www.freeimages.com

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Homophone of the Month: Complement vs. Compliment

editors-cornerBy Chris Saylor

Most of us learn to speak the language before we learn to read it. As such, it’s no surprise that, when two words sound the same, we sometimes have a difficult time telling them apart. Usually these words are spelled differently but pronounced the same way. We call these homophones.

For one of my monthly features, I’ll be covering homophones. I’m going to explain the different meanings, and whenever I can, I’ll give you little tricks to help you remember the difference between them. If nothing else, you’ll at least realize going forward that these two words might be confused, and you’ll know when to look up the correct meaning.

Today we will be looking at complement vs. compliment.

According to Merriam-Webster, complement means “something that completes something else or makes it better” or “the usual number or quantity of something that is needed or used.” Below are two examples of the word:

My wife is an amazing person, and she complements me well. (She both completes me and makes me better.)

The ship’s complement of Marines readied itself for battle.

On the other hand, compliment means “a remark that says something good about someone or something” or “an action that expresses admiration or approval.” Below is an example of the word:

My wife complimented me on my shirt and tie combination. (She said it looked good.)

Now to try to help you remember the difference. For complement, remember that it takes at least two things to complete each other, and so the word has two E’s.

What words do you have trouble telling apart? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll make sure to feature them later.

Every Saturday for the foreseeable future, I’ll be here in the Editor’s Corner, simplifying some of these grammar concepts for you and showing you how they specifically apply to your fiction. Coming up next week is Using Whom in Fiction.

Want to hire Chris for a proofread or copy edit? You can find out more about him at https://saylorediting.wordpress.com, or you can email him to talk about rates and availability at christopher.saylor21 [at] gmail.com. You might also want to check out the book he co-wrote with Marcy, Grammar for Fiction Writers, available at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, or Apple iBooks.

Image Credit: Dave Di Biase/www.freeimages.com

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How to Punctuate Dialogue

editors-cornerBy Chris Saylor

It’s easy for fiction writers to get tripped up on when to use a period, where that comma should go, and how to even use all the other forms of punctuation correctly. The truth is, you don’t need to know what every piece of punctuation does when you’re writing fiction. But you do need to know a few important aspects (your proofreader or copy editor can handle the rest).

(If you’re curious about why you should even hire a proofreader or copy editor, stay tuned—I’ll be writing about that soon.)

Today I’ll be walking you through the basics of how to punctuate your dialogue correctly.

Although it might seem nitpicky, incorrect punctuation in dialogue can have a significant negative effect on your writing. Choosing the correct form of punctuation for your dialogue will make your writing smoother, more professional-looking, and easier to understand.

First up is dialogue ending with a tag.

When writing a snippet of dialogue that ends with a tag (a word such as said or shouted), you should end the dialogue with a comma. For example:

“I love watching football,” Chris said.

When writing a question or exclamation, use a question mark or exclamation mark without a comma. For example:

“Do you like watching football?” Chris asked.

(Note that I could have swapped “asked” for “said” and still been correct.)

Next up is dialogue split by a tag.

When writing a sentence that is divided by a tag, use a comma after the snippet of dialogue (even if a comma wouldn’t naturally go there without the tag in place) and after the tag. For example:

“I almost hate being a Redskins fan,” Chris said, “because they haven’t been good in a long time.”

If the first segment of dialogue is a complete sentence, use a period after the tag and start the subsequent sentence with a capital letter. For example:

“I love the Redskins,” Chris said. “I’ve been a fan since I was five years old.”

Next up is ending a piece of dialogue with an em dash.

You should use an em dash for dialogue that is cut off. Make sure that you don’t use any other punctuation with the em dash. (An em dash is the longest of dashes: – is a regular dash, – is an en dash, and — is an em dash. If you want to know when–and how–to use all these different dashes, let me know in the comments.) For example:

“I love—”

“We don’t talk about Dallas in this household, and you know it.”

Next up is dialogue that trails off. You should use ellipses ( … ) in these situations.

“But I don’t…” He averted his eyes. “I know you hate Dallas. You don’t have to keep reminding me about it.”

What punctuation do you struggle with the most? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll address it in the future.

Every Saturday for the foreseeable future, I’ll be here in the Editor’s Corner, simplifying some of these grammar concepts for you and showing you how they specifically apply to your fiction. Coming up next week is my Homophone of the Month (complement vs. compliment).

Want to hire Chris for a proofread or copy edit? You can find out more about him at https://saylorediting.wordpress.com, or you can email him to talk about rates and availability at christopher.saylor21 [at] gmail.com. You might also want to check out the book he co-wrote with Marcy, Grammar for Fiction Writers, available at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, or Apple iBooks.

Image Credit: Dave Di Biase/www.freeimages.com

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Five Words That Weaken Your Writing

Weak Words

Image Credit: Andrzej Pobiedziski (freeimage.com)

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Last week, I released my newest Busy Writer’s Guide, Grammar for Fiction Writers, so today I wanted to give you a taste of what you can find inside. This is a section from “Chapter Nine: Weak Words.” I’m going to share five unspecific words that weaken your writing.

Weak words are words that don’t pull their own weight in a sentence. Most of the time, they’re useless. So useless, in fact, that, by taking them out, you make the sentence stronger.

At first this might seem like a strange chapter to include in a grammar book. Technically speaking, there’s nothing wrong with weak words. But this is a book on grammar for fiction writers, and so one of the things we have to look at in terms of grammar is tightening up our writing and bringing it to life by removing useless words from our sentences.

Both weasel words and helping and state-of-being verbs could have been included under unspecific words because of how they tend to tell rather than show, but I broke them up because of the slight differences between them. In this section, I want to focus on five words that are weak specifically because of how vague and generic they are.

Got/Get

Get (and its forms) isn’t always wrong, but you want to be careful because it can lead to confusion. It means “to receive,” “to take possession,” or “to obtain.” However, some people also use it in place of have.

Let me show you how this becomes a problem.

I got five dollars.

Does this mean “I have five dollars,” as in “I currently possess five dollars”? Or does it mean “someone gave me five dollars”?

To avoid vagueness like this, you should rewrite your sentence.

Grandpa gave me five dollars.

I have only five dollars to my name right now.

As you go through your writing, don’t assume that your got sentences are clear. Make sure they are.

Things

Like got, things isn’t wrong, but we often use it as the lazy way to escape putting in the work to define what we mean by things. Things could stand in for problems or reasons, which are two very different things.

When your character says, “I have things to do,” what does she mean? Does she mean she has errands to run? A house to clean? A doctor’s appointment? The only time you should have a character saying they have “things to do” is if they’re being intentionally vague, such as if they don’t want their girlfriend to know that they’re planning a surprise proposal. But even then, why not have them give a more specific excuse?

Moved/Took/Looked

How many times have you written something like this?

He moved across the room.

Grammatically, there’s nothing wrong with this sentence. The problem comes from its vagueness. It doesn’t give the reader a clear picture of the way your character is moving.

Look at these three possible types of movement.

He shuffled across the room.

He stalked across the room.

He sauntered across the room.

In each sentence, we have him moving across the room, but they’re extremely different types of movement. Don’t leave your reader guessing.

Both took and looked fall into the same category as moved.

She took the letter from him.

This doesn’t show us what’s happening.

She snatched the letter from him.

She delicately plucked the letter from him using only her thumb and forefinger, as if she were afraid contact with it would contaminate her.

Two different emotions are behind those ways of taking the letter.

Here’s the one I see most often in my editing work.

She looked at him.

But how did she look at him? Was it a furtive glance from the corner of her eyes as if she didn’t want to be caught? Was she glaring? Was she giving him an I-dare-you-to-try-it look?

None of these unspecific words are technically wrong, but you’re shortchanging your reader and yourself.

For more of Grammar for Fiction Writers, please pick up a copy from Amazon, Kobo, or Smashwords. (You might also be interested in checking out Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction.)

Both books are available in print and ebook forms.

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Have You Committed Word Crimes?

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

My next Busy Writer’s Guide is now out, and to celebrate, here’s some Weird Al Yankovic!

Now, if you’re wondering why I’m playing a song about word crimes to celebrate the release of my newest book, it’s because the book is Grammar for Fiction Writers

Grammar for Fiction Writers

It’s not your same old boring grammar guide! This book is fun, fast, and focused on writing amazing fiction.

The world of grammar is huge, but fiction writers don’t need to know all the nuances to write well. In fact, some of the rules you were taught in English class will actually hurt your fiction writing, not help it.

Grammar for Fiction Writers won’t teach you things you don’t need to know. It’s all about the grammar that’s relevant to you as you write your novels and short stories.

Here’s what you’ll find inside:
Punctuation Basics including the special uses of dashes and ellipses in fiction, common comma problems, how to format your dialogue, and untangling possessives and contractions.
Knowing What Your Words Mean and What They Don’t including commonly confused words, imaginary words and phrases, how to catch and strengthen weak words, and using connotation and denotation to add powerful subtext to your writing.
Grammar Rules Every Writer Needs to Know and Follow such as maintaining an active voice and making the best use of all the tenses for fast-paced writing that feels immediate and draws the reader in.
Special Challenges for Fiction Writers like reversing cause and effect, characters who are unintentionally doing the impossible, and orphaned dialogue and pronouns.
Grammar “Rules” You Can Safely Ignore When Writing Fiction

Due to popular demand, I’ve made Grammar for Fiction Writers available in both print and ebook form.

You can buy Grammar for Fiction Writers at Amazon.com, at the Amazon site for your own country, at Kobo, or at Smashwords. More sites will be coming soon! Like all the full-length books in my Busy Writer’s Guides series, it’s priced at $2.99 at Amazon.com. If you’d like to buy it at Smashwords for $2.99, use the coupon code FB64J. (That coupon code is good until the end of September.)

I’d appreciate it if you’d share this post on Facebook, Google+, or wherever you hang out. And remember to add your favorite writing hashtag when you tweet! (Suggestions: #amwriting #amediting #writetip #MyWANA)

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