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  • Ronda Wicks Eller

Good Words, Bad Words & The Grammar Nazi

As I work on my fifth draft of this novel manuscript I’m dreadfully aware of how much I tend to write in the past tense and certain words have become my archenemies. Steve Pinker does a decent job of describing this tendency among many writers so I don’t feel half-bad about admitting my guilt!

According to what I gleaned from him, we tend to do this because we already have our characters in the mental context of future scenarios so while the reader is pushing through to learn it newly, the writer feels a need for further explanation making. It makes sense but I also think that, for myself, when I have a whole set of circumstances and events ready to drop into the script I want to do it as quickly as possible just to get it out there and move along with the muse. I can (and do) return to it later. It underscores the insistence all writers hear in feedback from publishers, about making repeated edits and why a professional editor should be hired or a test group of readers be sought out, or both.

My baddies are the word “HAD” (had been..., had wanted to..., had gone…) and “THAT” (she knew that she…), the double-whammy: “HAD THAT” and “THAT HAD” (Hannah knew that had she..., if that had been his only weapon…) and the triple-whammy “THAT HAD THAT”, as in “a tune that had that feel of melancholy”… I confess it!!! I'm please to say I never committed the 'Mother of all Woes' although I've seen it in a similar construction to: "If she HAD brought home a pup THAT HAD HAD an illness THAT HAD been like its mother's..." <gasp!>

Interestingly, the exercise of rephrasing and removing redundant words (done in my previous edit on this manuscript) has removed a lot of those but in this edit I’m still finding them. They are stubborn little words, I must say. Readers go unaware of the intensive, time-consuming regimen a writer undertakes to wrestle their manuscript into shape after all the time it took to fully lay it out. The beast must be tamed (from a diction, grammar and readability perspective)!

Since the first draft of my current work, I’ve even gone to the extent of recording the entire manuscript audibly to find sentences that read okay but cannot be spoken without verbal issues; it took ten hours to read and double that or more to review. Sometimes I found sentences that, I admit, sounded and even read as if they were translated from another language using an online translator (and we all know how inaccurate those translations often end up). I thought, “Who wrote this? Some alien? It certainly wasn’t me, who has a good solid grasp of English as my native language!”… but it was.

I’ve come to conclude that any writer who tells you their stories are a one-off deal with no need for editing is probably one that should be avoided.

I’m sure all respectable authors are working continuously to improve their writing skills. Personally, I’m not a “grammar-nazi” or “spelling-nazi” when it comes to others’ writing; in other words, while I may notice grammar, punctuation and spelling mistakes, I’m not one to point them out to their author unless I’m asked. In that case, they should be prepared to get my constructive criticism politely but with both barrels loaded! I can’t help it… I notice.

Love your grammar-nazis even if they perturb you at times. Very few of them are trying to do anything other than help. That’s my blogging muse for today (now back to editing!).

Be at peace, be one and live in love,


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