When I become interested in something, it almost becomes an obsession. I read/buy books, I buy the best tools—everything needs to be top-notch—I try to go to classes when I could. Fortunately, in novel writing, you just need your writing tool—this could be your computer or if you are still old-style … a typewriter. The internet is also a wealth of information, but use it wisely.
My husband has always thought that I was the queen of the internet because I was quick to find the answers I needed. But there’s nothing like a good old reliable book. I’m sure most writers are familiar with it— but to those not in the United States (I know I’ve never heard of it when I was in school)—this book has been my bible:
The Elements of Style by William Strunk JR. and E.B. White
Unfortunately, like most textbooks, retention is bad unless I find real-life applications of the rules in the book. I have the illustrated version, but I’ve bought the e-book version as well for a quick reference since I always have my e-reader with me.
So what are some commonly misused words?
- which/that – Usually, I can tell which one to use by reading it out loud and figuring how the whole sentence means to me. An example from my manuscript:
Castle is about 30 clicks from the main highway, which
thatshould give us roughly 20 minutes’ heads up.
which is none restrictive, when it is taken away, the meaning of the sentence does not change, information following it is supplementary.
that is restrictive. It is necessary for the meaning of the sentence.
A safe house that has a panic room is essential to the mission.
- got/had been I have a bad habit of substituting got for had been. So now I ask myself if had been would be a better word. For example:
Numerous arrest warrants had been
- didn’t/hadn’t Again, this is a matter of habit and one might not be wrong as the other, but read it out loud and see which one sounds better. When posting a FB status, update I caught myself writing this.
Didn’t plan on buying shoes…
so I corrected it to this which sounded better to my ear
Hadn’t planned on buying shoes …
- before/ago I also noticed the correction of certain time references. I normally would say, 10 years ago—this was edited to 10 years before. Other changes:
last night => the night before
tomorrow=> the next day
I realized that this may depend on the point of view. If it’s in the third person point of view, it would be better to say the next day or the night before. A formality maybe? If it was in a dialogue, then a speaker was most likely to say, “I’ll see you tomorrow.” or “It was fun last night.”
The following pairs of words are for possible substitutions. One word might not be wrong to use, but in writing always choose the best word:
like (for a comparison) => such as
as in => perhaps
This man was the finest male specimen she had ever come across in a long time, perhaps
Another book I am currently reading is : Revision and Self-Editing for Publishing by James Scott Bell. I’m finding important writing gems in understanding what makes a good character, a compelling plot and handling those tricky point of views. I wish I had this before I started my book, but then again having finished work makes it easier to work on some material for improvement.
Until next time, happy writing!