a writers group in Oshkosh, WI that is so lame WE ARE AWESOME

Category Archives: Writing Tips

I got this advise from my new parnter and editor, Steven Yerges.

 You see the picture in your mind, then paint it with words as you see it. What you have to do is build it up from the back up for others to see it better though.

For example: you write “the letters bla bla bla on the faded glass window.

My editing: on the faded glass window the letters bla bla bla. :::

Its easier for readers to have the canvas before the foreground to paint their image like you would if you were actually painting. It’s fine to just go through write what you see, but for your own editing … you should go back and repaint your pictures from canvas to foreground.
Keep in mind, when you read my editing, that I’m still trying to use your painting, just help it become ordered and worded in a way everyone can paint it more easily in their mind. It is still your painting, your style.

I hate to say this about my brother, but damn that is like right on.  Notice though that you still write as fast as you can, but when you go through you first draft follow his advise.  Repaint it, bring the readers in by doing this.  Get the canvas, the backgrounds then the larger images, then get detailed.   I think this is what he meant, but I could be wrong.

We can discuss this at the meeting, but what do you think by this?


I’ve been getting these for a little while and wanted to make sure I thought they were useful before recommending this.  It’s a daily email with some common usage errors, word mix-ups etc.  There’s a whole website for the author as well as past posts etc.  The link for the page I’m posting here, has a section toward the upper right hand corner to subscribe to the eCalendar.

Check it out.  Sign up if you like.  Some are pretty interesting in a common sense way that I can’t believe people would get it messed up.  I also added the link to the comprehensive list under Writing Resources on the right.

Common Errors in English eCalendar

So, you want to learn how to use a comma.

Well, ladies, gents, sit down and get comfy because that’s what we’re here to accomplish.

Whether you’re a writer, reader, thinking about writing, know you’ll never write, or…well, if you’ve ever just posted a Twitter or Facebook status message, I’m sure you’ve come across the need to use a comma at one point or another.

If you’re not using commas, I can guarantee you are doing one of three things:

One: You’re writing short, choppy sentences. While this is not technically incorrect, it is a repetitive, dry, and often amateur writing style.

Example: Bella went to the store. Bella went to the library. Bella went home to cook dinner.

The Better Way: Bella went to the store, library, and then home to cook dinner.

Two: You’re using fragmented sentences. This is technically incorrect every time. While it is a style sometimes used by authors to emphasize a point, it is not something that should be used frequently or lightly. Examples would be when a character is in shock, or trying to emphasize a point to themselves.

Example: There was a pickle on the table. A pickle. Just sitting there. Like it had its own little “Reserved” sign in front of it.

In the above example, while this form is commonly accepted when a character is in a state of disbelief, it is not a sentence structure that should be used often throughout your writing. It is considered to be stylistic, and given the emotion of the writing around it, should not be abused.

The Better Way: There was a pickle on the table. A pickle, just sitting there, like it had its own little “Reserved” sign in front of it.

Three: You’re using run-on sentences: sentences that if you actually spoke out loud to yourself, you’d run out of air trying to say in one breath because there is no pause or break to speak of. Sentences that are always, always wrong. There is no stylistic license given to these types of sentences.

Example: Emma had a pickle in her hand no one knew why she just carried it around all day with her singing it songs and petting it like it was some animal she had brought home.

The Right Way: Emma had a pickle in her hand, no one knew why. She just carried it around all day with her, singing songs and petting it like it was some animal she had brought home.

I have found that nine times out of ten, reading something aloud to yourself will really help when trying to decide where you need a comma.

Before we go further, let’s clear up a couple myths on commas:

 MYTH: Long sentences need a comma. A really long sentence may be perfectly correct without commas. The length of a sentence does not determine whether you need a comma.
 MYTH: You should add a comma wherever you pause. Where you pause or breathe in a sentence does not reliably indicate where a comma belongs. Different readers pause or breathe in different places.
 MYTH: Commas are so mysterious that it’s impossible to figure out where they belong! Some rules are flexible, but most of the time, commas belong in very predictable places. You can learn to identify many of those places using this little lesson.

So, now that we’ve covered what’s happening if you’re not using commas, let’s cover what you do with a comma now that you know you need one. The comma indicates . . . the smallest break in sentence structure. It denotes a slight pause. Effective use of the comma involves good judgment, with ease of reading the end in view.

To do that, we have to figure out what a comma is used for. What is its function in the sentence? Commas have a few basic functions in a sentence.

One: A comma is used before the conjunction in a compound sentence. A compound sentence is a sentence made up of two independent clauses. That means that the two parts of the sentence could stand on their own, but we’re pulling them together with a conjunction and a comma.

Okay, first we’ll start with: What’s a conjunction?

Well, there are two classes of conjunctions. First we have the bigtimers, the coordinating conjunctions which are: and, but, or, for, so yet, and nor. Secondly we have the subordinating conjunctions. Some examples are: after, although, as, as if, as long as, as though, because, before, even if, even though, if, if only, in order that, now that, once, rather than, since, so that, than, that though, till, unless, until, when, whenever, where, whereas, wherever, while.

FANBOYS is a handy mnemonic device for remembering the coordinating conjunctions: For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So.

Words: I am almost dressed and ready.

Phrases: My socks are in the living room or under my bed.

Clauses: They smell really bad, so they will be easy to find.

Notice the comma in the final example. You should always have a comma before FANBOYS that join two independent clauses (two subjects and two verbs that make up two complete sentences). Look carefully at the next two sentences to see two independent clauses separated by comma + FANBOYS.

You wore a lovely hat, but you didn’t wear anything else.
(Independent Clause) (Independent Clause)

Above, in the wording before the comma but, there is a subject (you) and a verb (wore) and after the comma but, there is a subject (you) and a verb (wear). Meaning without the comma and but, you could write it like this:

You wore a lovely hat. You didn’t wear anything else.

Those are two complete sentences that can do just fine on their own, therefore you’ll need a conjunction AND a comma to bring it together in one sentence.

If you do not have two subjects and two verbs separated by the FANBOYS, you do not need to insert the comma before the FANBOYS. In other words, if the second grouping of words isn’t a complete thought, don’t use a comma. Try reading the words after FANBOYS all by themselves. Do they make a complete thought?

You wore a lovely hat but didn’t wear anything else.
(Independent clause) (not a complete thought)

In this example, the first clause remains the same, but the second clause has lost its subject (you). Therefore, separated into two sentences, it would look like this:

You wore a lovely hat. Didn’t wear anything else.

So the second sentence has now become a fragment. When combining a complete sentence with a fragment, you only need a conjunction . . . NO COMMA is needed. The conjunction alone is strong enough to hold those two halves together just fine.

You can read your own writing in the same way. Read what comes after FANBOYS all by itself. If it’s a complete thought, you need a comma. If not, you don’t.

Two: Introductory Bits

Setting off introductory words, phrases, or clauses with a comma lets the reader know that the main subject and main verb of the sentence come later. There are basically three kinds of introductory bits: small, medium, and large ones. No matter what size they are, an introductory bit cannot stand alone as a complete thought. It simply introduces the main subject and verb.

There are small (just one word) introductory bits:

Generally, extraterrestrials are friendly and helpful.

Moreover, some will knit booties for you if you ask nicely.

There are medium introductory bits. Often these are two- to four-word prepositional phrases or brief -ing and -ed phrases:

In fact, Godzilla is just a misunderstood teen lizard of giant proportions.

Throughout his early life, he felt a strong affinity with a playful dolphin named Flipper.

Frankly speaking, Godzilla wanted to play the same kinds of roles that Flipper was given.

Dissatisfied with destruction, he was hoping to frolic in the waves with his Hollywood friends.

There are large introductory bits (more than 4 words). You can often spot these by looking for key words/groups such as although, if, as, in order to, and when:

If you discover that you feel nauseated, then you know you’ve tried my Clam Surprise.

As far as I am concerned, it is the best dish for dispatching unwanted guests.

Three: Those pesky “I can never remember. Does a comma go here or not?” words.

TOO: When too is not being used to describe quantity (too much, too little, too high, too low, too fast, too slow, too far…et cetera) you should have a comma with it, whether in dialogue or narrative. There is some debate and differences between what kind of writing you are doing. For instance: For journalism, you wouldn’t use the comma. But for fictional writing (which is what we’re here for) having the word too set off by commas is still standard practice. But also know, that it’s one of those “gray” areas in comma usage. (I, personally, prefer the commas.)

“I want to go, too!”

“I, too, want to go.”

“Did he do that, too?”

“I love you, too.”

I saw him skip school, and I wanted to go, too.

Why? Well, because it’s the same as saying “as well”, “in addition”, “also”. And, in case you are wondering, all those words need commas around them, too.

“I liked that movie, as well.”

“I, also, thought it was a good movie.”

Beginner words: Such as well, yes, no, so, although, oh…

“Well, I thought that was the right answer.”

“No, I don’t want to go ice fishing.”

“So, I thought you were coming?”

“Oh, my God!” (When used as one exclamation: “Oh my God!”, it’s usually left as is without the comma, though with the comma is technically correct.)

“Oh, I didn’t know where to go.”

“Although, I assumed it was in the purple box.”

Four: Listing

Put commas between items in a list. When giving a short and simple list of things in a sentence, the last comma (right before the conjunction–usually and or or) is optional, but it is never wrong. If the items in the list are longer and more complicated, you should always place a final comma before the conjunction. I know personally in my own writing, I always include the last comma because it maintains consistency of the writing. Remember: it’s never, EVER wrong.

EITHER: You can buy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in Los Angeles.

OR: You can buy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in Los Angeles.

BUT ALWAYS: A good student listens to his teachers without yawning, reads once in a while, and writes papers before they are due.

Five: Description

If you have two or more adjectives (words that describe) that are not joined by a conjunction (usually and) and both/all adjectives modify the same word, put a comma between them. When a noun is preceded by two or more adjectives that could, without affecting the meaning, be joined by and, the adjectives are normally separated by commas. But if the noun and the adjective immediately preceding it are conceived as a unit, such as “little girl,” “political science,” or “glass ceiling,” no comma should be used. Read it aloud to yourself, this is a big place that it will help. If you find yourself pausing (And I don’t mean like a big five second pause, just a tiny little space in between when you say the first word to when you say the second one) between descriptive words, you probably need a comma.

Big, (pause) bright sun

Long, (pause) red, (pause) flowing hair.

He was a bashful, dopey, sleepy dwarf.

The frothy, radiant princess kissed the putrid, vile frog.

ALSO GOOD: He was a bashful dwarf. (with only one descriptive word, no comma is needed)

ALSO GOOD: The radiant princess kissed the vile frog.

Six: Interruption

Think of these commas as parentheses. A lot of times they are in fact referred to as parenthetical commas. These commas help your reader figure out your main point by telling him or her that the words within the commas are not necessary to understand the rest of the sentence. In other words, you should be able to take out the section framed by commas and still have a complete and clear sentence.

Bob Mills, a sophomore from Raleigh, was the only North Carolina native at the Japanese food festival in Cary.

Aaron thought he could see the future, not the past, in the wrinkles on his skin.

My chemistry book, which weighs about 100 pounds, has some really great examples.

To see if you need commas around an interrupter, try taking the interrupter out of the sentence completely. If the sentence is still clear without the interrupter, then you probably need the commas.

Seven: Commas with Dialogue

Now I will not cover this much as Admittedly Obsessed and Roo have excellent punctuation around dialogue threads in this same area, so please be sure to check those out as well, but just some examples:

WRONG: “I thought I told you to go to the store an hour ago.” He said.

WRONG: “I thought I told you to go to the store an hour ago,” he sounded irritated while grabbing for his keys.

WRONG: “I didn’t know there was buried treasure under here,” he smiled. (You cannot…canNOT smile words. You can smile while speaking, but you cannot smile words—nor can you grin or smirk them.)

ALSO WRONG: “I thought I told you to go to the store an hour ago,” he said grabbing his keys while looking irritated.

GOOD: “I thought I told you to go to the store an hour ago,” he said.

GOOD: “I thought I told you to go to the store an hour ago.” He sounded irritated while grabbing for his keys.

GOOD: “I didn’t know there was buried treasure under here.” He smiled. ALSO GOOD: I didn’t know there was buried treasure under here,” he said with a smile on his face.

ALSO GOOD: “I thought I told you to go to the store an hour ago,” he said, grabbing his keys with a look of irritation on his face.

And this must also be covered because it is a mistake I see so often I can’t even begin to count. When using a name in dialogue, if the character is talking directly to another person and uses their name… You MUST, MUST, MUST!!! ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS!!! (Could I put anymore emphasis on that?) USE COMMAS TO SET THE NAME OFF.

WRONG: “Edward do you want to go to the store with me?”

WRONG: “Are you listening to me Edward?”

WRONG: “I tried to stop it Edward but it didn’t work.”

WRONG: “I tried to stop it Edward, but it didn’t work.”

WRONG: “It’s all for you love.”

GOOD: “Edward, do you want to go to the store with me?”

GOOD: “Are you listening to me, Edward?”

GOOD: “I tried to stop it, Edward, but it didn’t work.”

GOOD: “It’s all for you, love.”

Terms of endearment that take the place of a persons name must ALSO be set off by commas. I know it’s a lot of commas, and when the name is in the middle of the sentence, it kind of looks odd at first when you start doing it…but I promise you it’s right. (And if you don’t do it, I’ll get my ruler out and start smacking your fingers. *evil laugh*) That also goes for phrases used in dialogue such as “you slimy thief,” “you jerk,” “you pretty, little thing.” MUST HAVE COMMAS. Really, it must. I don’t care how short the sentence is.

WRONG: “Hello Bella.”

WRONG: “Hello love.”

GOOD: “Hello, Bella.”

GOOD: “Hello, love.”

If you have trouble remembering, use this trick (I have helena_handbasket to thank for this one).

WRONG: “Let’s eat Grandpa.” (Without the comma here, you’re suggesting we eat Grandpa for desert. Here you’re talking ABOUT Grandpa, not TO him.)

GOOD: “Let’s eat, Grandpa.” (Here you’re saying… Let’s go get some delicious ice cream, Grandpa! And NOT eat you! Because here you’re speaking TO him, not ABOUT him.)


Now, if your character is talking ABOUT someone else and uses their name…NO COMMAS.

GOOD: “I just tried to call Alice.”

GOOD: “I just tried to call Alice, but no one answered.” (Now here, the comma after Alice is being used to bring the two complete sentences together and NOT with the name itself. See how it all works together?)

ALSO GOOD: “I told Edward to do the Macarena.”

Eight: Those other conjunctions

However, therefore, moreover, and other words like them are not FANBOYS (they are called conjunctive adverbs). They go between two complete thoughts, just like FANBOYS, but they take different punctuation. Why? Who cares? You just need to recognize that they are not FANBOYS (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so—remember?), and you’ll make the right choice.

When you want to use one of these words, you have two good choices. Check to see if you have a complete thought on both sides of the “conjunctive adverb.” If you do, then you can use a period to make two sentences, or you can use a semicolon (USE WITH DESCRETION. And if you don’t have to use one, DON’T!) after the first complete thought. Either way, you’ll use a comma after the faker in the second complete thought. Notice the subtle differences in punctuation here:

GOOD: Basketball is my favorite sport. However, table tennis is where I excel. (We like this one, use this one.)

ALSO GOOD: Basketball is my favorite sport; however, table tennis is where I excel. (This one is acceptable, but gives us a headache.)

BAD: Basketball is my favorite sport, however table tennis is where I excel.

ALSO BAD: Basketball is my favorite sport, however, table tennis is where I excel.

Nine: Last, but not least, we must cover the dreaded…COMMA SPLICE.

If you don’t have FANBOYS between the two complete and separate thoughts, using a comma alone causes a “comma splice” or “fused sentence” (some instructors may call it a run-on). Some readers (especially professors) will think of this as a serious error.

BAD: My hamster loved to play, I gave him a hula-hoop.

ALSO BAD: You wore a lovely hat, it was your only defense.

To fix these comma splices, you can do one of four simple things: just add FANBOYS, change the comma to a semicolon, make each clause a separate sentence, or add a subordinator (a word like because, while, although, if, when, since, etc.) And please, please, please remember…SEMICOLONS SHOULD BE USED RARELY. They’re like your big, older brother you REALLY don’t want to have to go to for fighting your battles. But if you’re stuck in a corner and just don’t know what else to do, you’ll break down and go tell him all about it.

GOOD: You wore a lovely hat, for it was your only defense.

ALSO GOOD: You wore a lovely hat; it was your only defense.

STILL GOOD: You wore a lovely hat. It was your only defense.

TOTALLY GOOD: You wore a lovely hat because it was your only defense.

So, we’ve been to there and back again! Commas are tricky, but once you get the hang of it you can master those little suckers easily. If you have any further questions, PM me or post your questions here and I will check back frequently!

Thanks and I hope I’ve helped if you’ve been having trouble!

(written by oceanwaters2006 via http://www.twilighted.net)