Tag Archives: grammar

How I saved my cat and my novel

What a wonderful thing Word.doc is. Before computers, writers had to use something called a typewriter, an instrument that, like a computer keyboard, had letters to click, but unlike typewriters, Word is easier to correct. What a wonderful word is ‘delete.’

But Word is terrible at grammar, as many of you writers already know. Working on my new novel I wrote ‘I’m too. . .

I must pause to tell you that the original title for this blog was Why Writers Can’t Trust Word. I was going to show the sentence I wrote and why the Word.doc grammar Nazi underlined ‘I’m’ and said it should be ‘I are.’

I got as far as I mentioned because I went to the document that has the manuscript for my novel in progress. I wrote 1,600 words yesterday in chapter three, words that would throw a big wrench into the murder mystery, taking the story in a new direction with many questions to be pondered. I was immensely proud of the output and what I had written. So I wanted to find the sentence that began ‘I’m too. . . ‘ and show why Word knows little about grammar. He can’t be trusted. I had other examples I had written down as evidence. But when I scrolled down to chapter three, yesterday’s work was gone. It wasn’t there; it was gone, as in gone. That means it wasn’t there. 1,600 words disappeared.

What happened? My first thought was to go to system restore to retrieve my work, but according to my system the safe place was four days ago. Then I thought that I had failed to click ‘save’ when I logged out yesterday. That had to be the reason.

I think Word knew I was going to trash him in a blog and sabotaged my work. No Matter. I saved the beginning of this blog, went back to chapter three and the only thing to do was write down the structure of what I had written. I wrote down the essentials, a summary if you will ,of the scene. I was not going to rewrite until I recalled everything that went on as that would make the writing easier. But. . .

You may not believe this, but just as I finished the summary that contained everything I needed, the power flashed off, radio, lights, computer-(the lights just flickered again as I am writing this-I am in a big rain storm with high winds in the Pacific Northwest, thus the outage.) So now my summary was lost, just as I had finished it.  So I started a second time while it was all fresh in my mind. I told myself if the power goes out again I am going to grab a bottle of gin, kick the cat out the window, crawl into my bed, curse the world, and read a book.

Luckily for the cat the power did not go off, but as I am typing this the lights still flicker. In fact I just saved this draft, honest. I am not going through this another time.

I saved my work so I can finish chapter three, but I will not work on it today. I must grieve first. And since the power did not go off forcing me to kick the cat out the window, I saved her life. So if you are a writer remember to look at ‘save’ before you click. Make sure you save your work. Your cat will thank you. Now I am going to bed and read. I don’t care if it is just after noon.

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My Amazon page


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Do you loath or do you loathe

A writer wants, no needs, no Must, get the right word for the right meaning. And many words can easily finds their way into a sentence where they do not belong. Loath, for instance, means unwilling or reluctant, as in “I am loath to go to Seattle Seahawk game and watch them self destruct once again in the fourth quarter.” Loathe, on the other hand means to dislike greatly or abhor, as in,  “I loathe to go to a Seattle Seahawk game and watch them self destruct once again in the fourth quarter.” 

As you can see, sometimes different words can  have the same meaning at times. I can loath and loathe at the same time for the same reason.

But there are more problem words. Let’s try again. Illegible and unreadable are not the same thing. Illegible means the document can not be read because the handwriting is so poor it is undecipherable. Unreadable can’t be read because what was written is not interesting, or incomprehensible, that it makes no sense, even though you can read the words.

The other day I was bugged with the ‘which word is it’ problem when I wanted to write the word that means the origin of words. But I typed ‘entomology’ and that is the study of insects. It drove me buggy because I could not think of the correct word-it is etymology. You can see how easy it is to confuse those two words. Those words are troublesome, but not as bad as capitol or capital.

But words do not have to sound similar, as illegible and unreadable indicate. If you think humorous and comical mean the same, sorry, they have different meanings. I will let you research those words and I will quiz you later.

I bring all this up as another example of proofreading problems. It is more than spelling, more than grammar, more than punctuation. It is also, and arguably more important, to get the right word with the right meaning in the right sentence. You might be legible in your writing, but if you confuse the reader too much you become unreadable. I hope this blog is not confusing you.

I will leave with the problem of ‘is and are.’ Is means singular as in he is, she is, or it is. Are is plural as in ‘we are’. However, when the subject is elusive, it is the authors discretion to use either word. In other words, two times three IS six and two times three ARE six are both correct.

I don’t know how I can learn a foreign language when I am still trying to figure out English.

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My hopefully readable e-books at Amazon



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Spell Czech the writers worst enemy

Most writers believe their worst enemy is a bad review, but it is  not. I have one bad review-the person had trouble reading the last chapter, but no matter. I went to new Orleans and found a Cajun voodoo priestess who took care of that person for me.  I will not reveal her name or what she did. I am sure you understand why. The real enemy is spell check. We know the problems with spell check, but it can not be stressed enough.

The computer is smart, but not smart enough to know what you mean and the grammar is suggests is sometimes laughable. I bring this problem up because even professional writers in their Kindle eBooks have misspellings.  It is easy to miss certain words when you don’t see the obvious red squiggly line underneath a word when you look at the screen. Even during an edit words can be missed. Two words ‘there’ and ‘their’ can be a problem and ‘are and ‘our’ are another. And in the first paragraph above I found the word ‘stresses’ and it should be ‘stressed’. I found it when I proofread.

The problem during an edit is that the eyes read faster than the mind can process and ‘there’ can be missed for ‘their’. During an edit it is easy to scan. You know what you wrote so the mind is familiar, it does not give it a second thought-just like a programed spell check. I hate to point this out, but the only way to catch some of the misspellings is not to read, but proofread and that is a pain in the hemorrhoid.

In proofreading you do not read the word, you look at the letters. It is a slow, and I do mean slow process. Slugs move faster. But in the end you do want the work to look professional, so you take the pain.

I read the paragraph first, then a second time a read a sentence, then read the word. If you have a method, a process, you find yourself inching faster just a wee bit. I would also point out that regular books published by New York publishers sometimes have errors in them. That means the author, the editor, and the proofreader, all missed the word. Mistakes happen, but we should work to eliminate as many as we can. Readers will catch those darn things you know and we need not subject them to that. And yes, I am sure I have made some. If you find any in my books feel free to point them out to me.


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An important key to editing your story

I began my novel in progress with the following paragraph:

“I left for work wondering how soon my job would be eliminated and when it happened, for only a fool could not see it coming, I was also wondering how I would earn a living, for my occupation, such as it is, would no longer be needed. When I went home earlier than expected because of the murder, I had the same job, sort of, but was still wondering, this time wondering if I was up to the challenge. I also wondered who killed Hans Bachmann. I wonder a lot. It is an occupational hazard of writers.”

There is nothing terribly bad about the opening paragraph. You have the hero thinking he might be fired, then drops in the fact about going home early because of a murder. Who got murdered? What happened? But the problem is too many words. In editing, cut out the unnecessary and get to the point.

The revised paragraph is:

“I went to work worried I would be fired, was elated when told I still had my job, but had a chill run down my spine when I went to my office and saw a dead man sitting in my chair, his head on my desk in a pool of blood. And this on the day I had to go to Clara Bow’s birthday party. Some days just don’t fit in a normal life.”

I cut 97 words. It now reads with a smoother flow. It is also more active. The character goes from worried to elated to a chill down his spine in one sentence. You also get a visual of the murder scene. Victim sitting in the chair, head down, pool of blood. A sense of tone is more clear with the sentence about the murder happening on the day he is going to Clara Bow’s birthday and yes, this is not a normal day. I think this guy also has a quirky sense of humor.

I edited the paragraph a few months after writing it. I liked the first version, but writers tend to love what they write. They need to wait, forget what they wrote and revisit. Looking at it with fresh eyes it was easy for me to see a change was needed.

I hope you agree with the rewrite. A writer has to be critical of what he writes, not falling in love with a blind eye. That is the reason to put it aside and wait for fresh eyes. This is the key to editing.

Though the story is unfinished, Amazon has my finished e-books here: http://www.amazon.com/Terry-Nelson/e/B00EEVHN38


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Could Edgar Allan Poe get published today

“I prefer commencing with the consideration of an effect. Keeping originality always in view-for he is false to himself who ventures to dispense with so obvious and so easily attainable a source of interest-I say to myself, in the first place, ‘Of the innumerable effects, or impressions, of which the heart, the intellect or (more generally)  the soul is susceptible, what one shall I say, on the present occasion select?’ “

The sentence above is from Poe’s essay “The Philosophy of Composition.” To be fair it begins a paragraph early in the essay, so, in a real sense, it is taken out of context. It is directed, I am sure, not to the common reader, but to the intelligentsia.  So let me quote from a short story in the next paragraph. It is the opening paragraph from “Morella.”

“With a feeling of deep yet most singular affection I regarded my friend Morella. Thrown by accident into her society many years ago, my soul, from our first meeting, burned with fires it had never before known; but the fires were not of Eros, and bitter and tormenting to my spirit was the gradual conviction that I could in no manner define their unusual meaning, or regulate their vague intensity.”

Keeping in mind that I read Poe in junior high and in college, and is one of my favorite writers, I ask, if whether he could get published today.

I ask because in the first example about composition, the sentence is awkward, requiring a better mind than mine to determine precisely what he is writing about. I have to read it three times before I get the gest of the meaning. Which is preferred- to read with swiftness, understanding each sentence, each paragraph, absorbing every point with ease, or to go over the same sentence over and over.

In the second example cited from Poe’s short story, would not an agent or editor say to the writer change ‘burned with desire’  along with ‘the fires were not of Eros’ for being antiquated.

And that is the point, writers today do not write like Poe, like Dickens, like Melville. Styles have, culture has changed, art has changed. Movies had a lot to do with how writers have changed. Writers began to write not with intellectual thoughts, but by seeing the story played out like a movie. Writing began reflecting the editing structure of movies. Movies told stories faster, and over time writers began to do the same.

 Today it is more along the lines of  ‘keep it simple stupid.’  Keep the story moving, don’t get bogged won with too many words. I still read Poe and other writers of yore, but I question if Poe were a young man today his style would get him published. Quoth the raven, nevermore!

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Books a writer should have at hand

Besides a dictionary and thesaurus, there are many books a writer can avail himself of.

On the shelf at my computer desk are: “Dictionary of Problem Words and Expressions,”  “Which Word When,” “All about Words,” and “Fowler’s Modern English Usage.” The titles are self explanatory. Not only do they clarify all those questions you have about words and grammar, they tell you things you never knew-and should know. Your writing will be better for it.

And don’t forget “The Elements of Style” and Aristotle’s “Poetics.” They are both thin and take up little room.

Carl Jung’s “Man And His Symbols” and Edith Hamilton’s “Mythology” to give your fiction deep underlying meaning that impress critics. They love metaphoric symbolism; in fact that is all they like. 

“Games People Play” by Eric Berne is great for creating characters. You can read and understand what and why certain types do what they do. It will make your characters come alive with realism.

Richard Mitchell’s “The Gift of Fire,” just because.

“The Elements of Editing” by Arthur Plotnik. Mostly for Journalists, but you can learn a lot from it.

The classic “The Art of Creative Writing” by Lajos Egri  and “Writing the Natural Way” by Gabriele Lusser Rico  for clustering, image, metaphor, creative tension, and other fun things.

A book on character naming is also a must.

It also helps to have “A Whack on the Side of the Head” to get your juices flowing.

Keep in mind I said these are books you should have on your shelf near where you write. You need not read them, in fact it is best to find used copies that have been well thumbed through. When your friends come over they will be impressed by the seriousness you are taking towards your writing. And making a good impression is what counts.

I have had these books since my college days at Princeton with F. Scott Fitzgerald. He wasn’t impressed. He didn’t need them. I do. And if you’re not F. Scott Fitzgerald-and you’re not-then you should consider these books. They can fill your shelf.


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Are your participles dangling-check your modifiers

The following I copied from Wiki: “A dangling modifier (a specific case of which is the dangling participle)[1] is an ambiguous grammatical construct, whereby a grammatical modifier could be misinterpreted as being associated with a word other than the one intended, or with no particular word at all. For example, a writer may have meant to modify the subject, but word order makes the modifier seem to modify an object instead. Such ambiguities can lead to unintentional humor or difficulty in understanding a sentence in formal contexts.”

I wish no disrespect to the person who wrote this. I assume it is a professor because one can’t understand what they say to begin with. A few things I would like to point out. I loved the phrase ” a writer may have meant to modify the subject, but word order makes the modifier seem to modify the object.” First; as a writer I rarely know what I mean to do other than make myself clear. I am not sure I want to modify anything. Second, I had to laugh at “the modifier seem to modify the object.” I laugh-not loud-because it sounds funny. I might as well be reading Latin.

Examples are needed for clarity. Fortunately, the writer provides some. Here they are: “A typical example of a dangling modifier is illustrated in Turning the corner, a handsome school building appeared.[2] The modifying clause Turning the corner is clearly supposed to describe the behaviour of the narrator (or other observer), but grammatically it appears to apply to nothing in particular, or to the school building. Similarly, in At the age of eight, my family finally bought a dog,[3] the modifier At the age of eight “dangles,” not attaching to the subject of the main clause (and conceivably implying that the family was eight years old when it bought the dog, rather than the intended meaning of giving the narrator’s age at the time.”

Even if the first example is wrong, it makes sense to me. The second example is clearly wrong and I see the problem here much better than the first. No writer wants to




a participle or modifier. So pay attention when proofreading. Make sure you know what each clause is saying, that it is clear, and that you are not dangling over the precipice at the abyss of confusion.

If you want to purchase one of my e-books and check for dangling participles and modifiers please don’t let me stop you.

Loonies in Hollywood: http://www.amazon.com/Loonies-Hollywood-Terry-Nelson-ebook/dp/B00EHK4OJ2/ref=la_B00EEVHN38_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1393214095&sr=1-1

Cemetery Tales and other Phantasms: http://www.amazon.com/Cemetery-Tales-other-Phantasms-Nelson-ebook/dp/B00G9JND9Q/ref=la_B00EEVHN38_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1393214095&sr=1-2

Loonies in the Dugout: http://www.amazon.com/Loonies-Dugout-Terry-Nelson-ebook/dp/B00EEN7YNA/ref=la_B00EEVHN38_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1393214095&sr=1-3

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