Going through edits for The 3288 Review and Brewed Awakenings 2, I’ve come across several trends common to more than one writer. Study these errors so you don’t fall victim to them.
- Semicolons. Don’t use a semicolon followed by a sentence fragment. For example, avoid something like: “Bob walked to the store; milk on the shopping list.” The only acceptable uses for semicolons are to differentiate independent clauses or to delineate lists when the list requires internal commas.
- General-reference errors. You can get away with much in dialogue, but your narrator generally doesn’t get a pass on bad grammar. Avoid using this or that or equivalent words without a clear noun antecedent, when the implied antecedent is the entire idea expressed in the previous sentence. For example, avoid: “Running with scissors is a bad idea. This could also lead to injury.” Better as “Running with scissors is a bad idea. This behavior could also lead to injury.”
- Punctuation within quotes. Punctuation goes inside the quotes. In ordinary fiction writing, there’s never, ever, ever any acceptable circumstance where a sentence ends with a quote mark and then a period.
- Em dashes. For layout purposes, it’s generally better to use two hyphens offset by spaces to represent an em dash. Don’t let the hyphens autocorrect to an en dash. If you’re writing for publication, verify how your editor wants to see em dashes rendered.
- Ellipses. Wildly over-used. For the love of all that is good and holy, let the reader hear the pauses in his own head instead of inserting ellipses everywhere. You need not over-prescribe the flow of dialogue. If it’s really relevant to indicate trailed-off speech or halting diction, use narration to indicate as such. Don’t lean on an ellipsis as a crutch.
- Commas. Two clauses joined by a conjunction do not require a comma when the clauses share the same grammatical subject. For example: “Jane likes candy and eats peanuts.” But: “Fred likes candy, and Sharon eats peanuts.”
- Numbers. No real rule here — follow your stylebook — but we tend to follow the AP’s requirements, which spell out numbers less than ten and use figures for larger numbers unless those larger numbers are measurements or ages.
- Colons. Capitalize the word after a colon, when what follows is a complete sentence.
- Hyphenated compounds. Use a hyphen to join two adjectives that, together, jointly modify another word. Do not hyphenate adverbs or adjectives that independently modify another word. For example: “Click the blue-green button on the lower left of the screen.” (The button is basically teal, and located in a place that’s both low and to the left on the screen.)
- Phrases not adjacent to their referent term. A clause or phrase that modifies given term must be adjacent to it. For example, avoid: “Helen cracked the snow globe on the countertop, which had been given to her by her grandmother.” (The globe, presumably, and not the countertop was a gift from granny, so the which clause must follow globe instead of countertop.)
- Run-on sentences and sentence fragments. The judicious use of run-on or fragmented sentences is an advanced writing technique that should not be routinely used by inexperienced writers because the style comes off as either florid or incoherent.
- Mental speech. Offset mental speech by italics, not quotes. Do not let mental speech interweave with narration without some form of offsetting, and do not let one character’s speech (mental or otherwise) intermingle with another character’s, within the same paragraph.
- Single quotes. The only appropriate use of single quotes in U.S. English is to set off a direct quote within a direct quote. Do not use single quotes for emphasis or to set off mental speech.
We encourage authors to work with competent line editors — usually, folks in a writing group can help — to polish manuscripts to avoid obvious and avoidable technical errors, because the more of these mistakes that editors encounter in a new submission, the less likely it is that the editors will accept that content for publication.