Monday, December 26, 2016

When to Use Fewer and When to Use Less

Remembering how to distinguish these terms, and knowing when to use each correctly, is easy. Just keep in mind that less is for broad terms, and fewer is used for quantifiable items.
For example, one may see fewer airplanes, cars, or bicycles. These are all things that we could count if we wanted to. But we may have less peace in the world, less conflict in our relationships, or less stability between countries. The latter involve attributes that we can't count.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

When to Use the Word Literally

Literally has become a popular term that many people use without understanding its true meaning. Literal means exact or actual as opposed to exaggerated or fictitious, which is something that is not real.

Writers use literally in two different ways. The first way is for emphasis. "The strangler was literally 5 feet away from me." In this instance, the term is unnecessary. The strangler is either 5 feet away from you or he's not. There is no need to add the word literally; it's redundant. If you want to emphasize how scary it is to have a criminal right next to you, find other ways to show us how frightening that is. Make your heart beat faster, perspire, or gasp for breath due to the proximity of this strangler, but don't use the word literally.

The second instance is always wrong. It's when writers say something like, "My heart stopped—literally." Or "I had butterflies in my stomach—literally." If you have real butterflies in your stomach, you should be on the way to the emergency room. Ditto for no heartbeat. In these examples, the writer is trying to convey how serious an issue is. Better to strengthen your verbs by saying something like, "My heart raced" or "My stomach danced." Or use a metaphor; "I felt like my heart stopped beating." That's accurate. Using literally is not.

So, when is a good time to use the word literally? Almost never.

Friday, October 21, 2016

When to Use Imply and Infer

When to Use Imply and Infer

Many people are uncertain when to use the word imply and when to use infer. It's easy.

To imply is to insinuate or suggest that something is one way or another. It's not usually something people say out loud; to imply is to make a subtle reference and hope that the other person catches it. "Jennifer asked if I was going to eat all my french fries. Was she implying that I needed to lose weight?"

To infer is to deduce or conclude something by what somebody else said. Inferring is not something that we say out loud either; it's usually something that we think to ourselves. "Jennifer noticed that I didn't eat all my french fries. She inferred that I was trying to lose weight." Note that Jennifer did not ask her friend for clarification. She just drew her own conclusion based on the evidence.

In both instances, it's easy for people to be wrong. If we think that a person is implying something, we are making a guess, which could be incorrect. Ditto for inferring a comment. But these words are not used interchangeably, and they do not mean the same thing, so double check to make sure that you are using each one in the right context.



Monday, October 10, 2016


Wordiness is a common problem for writers. One of the best ways to catch our wordiness is to go back and reread our material. Usually, when we are writing, we are in creative mode, and we say whatever comes to mind. It's only when we go back to carefully revise that we catch problems like wordiness.

Here are some examples of saying too much:

1. "Maria went back to the apartment she was living in." Unless you are trying to emphasize that Maria has five apartments and tonight, she decided to stay in the one that she was currently using, it's much more clear to say, "Maria returned to her apartment."

2. "Monique appeared in a bikini bathing suit." Bikini says it all. No need for the term bathing suit.

3. "That's where we sent the kids to university when they were ready to leave home for higher learning." The fact that the kids were ready to leave home can be implied. Obviously, you're not going to send your kids away if they're not ready to go anywhere. So the simplest way to phrase this statement would be, "That's where we sent the kids to university" or "That's where the kids went to university."

Writing shorter, clearer, more concise sentences and paragraphs is easier on the reader. It allows readers to get right to the point of your material so that they are not bogged down in unnecessary detail.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

What's the Difference between Writing and Editing?

Although there is quite a bit of overlap between writing and editing, there are also some major distinctions between the two. Writing is essentially a creative process whether we are writing fiction or nonfiction; we let our minds roam freely, particularly during the first draft of a document, so that we can get down everything that we are thinking. Then we often rewrite our material to look for mistakes or parts of our story or report that are clumsy or confusing or we just don't like. Some people rewrite a number of times before they are satisfied, particularly with long documents, but even journalists who are writing eight-hundred-word articles are prone to revising their material before submitting the final product. After people finish writing, they usually do a spell-check, and their material may or may not go on to an editor.

If it does, the editor will play a completely different role than the writer. Let's say that the writer has written a novel and submitted it to a developmental editor. The editor will examine the manuscript very carefully to assess character development, background setting, conflict between and within characters, and the resolution of the plot. A developmental editor may recommend many changes in the story to make it more clear, consistent, or less wordy. A newspaper editor may look for potential legal problems, and the editor of a charitable foundation may look for inaccuracies in the monthly report. After the author has implemented some of these recommendations, the manuscript goes for copyediting.

Copyediting involves going line by line in the document to make sure that everything is correct. The copy editor will remove errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and typos. The editor will also establish a style. For example, the author may be Australian, and the book may have been written using Australian spelling. The copy editor will then ensure that none of the spelling appears using standard American terms, which would not fit. The copy editor will also stylize punctuation: the editor and the author will decide if the author wants to use serial commas, commas linking coordinating conjunctions (e.g., "The sun was setting, and it was beginning to get cold."), and commas after introductory clauses (e.g., "After midnight, the concert hall was almost empty.").

So, editing is similar to rewriting, but it takes into account many other factors such as consistency. If the word okay is spelled as such fifty-two times in a manuscript, we don't want it spelled as OK in three instances. Consequently, copy editors have a fine eye for detail whereas developmental editors have a keen ability to look at the larger picture. Writers are mainly concerned about getting their story down on paper and doing it as grammatically as possible, but after spending hours, or in some cases years, on a manuscript, writers may lose their objectivity and may benefit from using an editor to provide an independent assessment of their work.

For more information about Evaluating Fiction please visit

Friday, September 30, 2016

Word Usage – Three Difficult Words to Use Properly

What are the most difficult words to use correctly in a sentence? Many people struggle with the terms affect and effect, compliment and complement, and how to conjugate the verb to lay.

Let's start with affect and effect. Affect is a verb. To affect something is to influence it or impact it in some way. "Jonathan knew that his good looks would affect the jury's decision about his innocence." Effect is a noun that often refers to a result or consequence. "The effect of all the rain was a glorious, colorful spring full of flowers and overgrown lawns."

Compliment versus complement — a compliment is a nice thing to say about someone. It is a form of flattery. If my husband looks great in his new suit, I want to give him a compliment. I want him to know that he looks handsome. A complement is something that goes well with something else. "Her gold chain complemented the highlights in her hair."

Finally, the most difficult term: to lay. First, we have the verb to lie, which can mean several things. In this case, I am referring to recline or lie down, not to lie as in to tell a falsehood.To conjugate this verb in present tense, we want to say,"I lie down,"the past tense is "I lay down," and the past perfect tense is "I have lain." (Most people have difficulty with the latter. The key is to remember only to uselain when it is preceded by the word have.)Second, we have to lay, a transitive verb that means to put something or someone down. The present tense would go something like this:" Mohammed needs to lay those bricks before nightfall." Past tense: "I laid my head on the pillow." Past perfect tense would be "My father has laid down the law in the house." What you don't want to say is "I laid down" even though it's very tempting because it sounds a lot like "I paid the bill," which is perfectly correct grammatically whereas "I laid down" is not.

Who got it wrong in the rock star world? Bob Dylan's "Lay, lady, lay. Lay across my big brass bed." is not right. Eric Clapton immortalized this error as well in his megahit "Lay Down, Sally," which should have been "Lie Down, Sally." Dylan and Clapton can be forgiven; readers may not be quite so generous with you.

For more information about Editing Fiction please visit

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Podcast Series on Grammar, Punctuation, and Creative Writing

I've recorded a 10-part podcast series on grammar, punctuation, and creative writing. If you're interested in how to avoid writing run-on sentences; when to use apostrophes; how to establish realistic dialogue; how to create interesting and diverse characters; how to develop detailed background settings; and how to resolve conflicts in fictitious works...

And if you want to know how to organize and structure nonfiction from manuscripts to business reports to essays; all about frequently misused words; and whether you can trust your spell-check, this series is for you.

It's available on MySpace, it's free, and you can listen by clicking here:

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Word Usage: When to Use Lose or Loose

Some people find word usage easy. They remember the difference between affect and effect, regardless and irregardless (the latter is not a word), and how to conjugate the verb lay. Others occasionally need a refresher course.

Today we are looking at lose and loose. What's the difference between the two?

Lose is the opposite of win or gain. It means that you had something at one point, and now you don't, for better or worse. The conjugation of the verb to lose is lose, lost, have lost. For example, I've lost fourteen pounds! That's a good thing to lose. On the other hand, our team lost the semifinals. Not so good.

Loose often refers to clothing or something that is baggy. He was wearing a loose fitting shirt. Sometimes, it's used in the pejorative to refer to a woman who sleeps around. She was a loose woman. A very sexist way of thinking, which I hope is on its way out. We hope that people will lose that kind of attitude!

In general, the way to remember this one is that lose is a verb and loose is an adjective. There is only one way to conjugate loose unless you want to say loosely.

Monday, September 5, 2016


It's raining cats and dogs.

She has a heart of gold.

That's like comparing apples and oranges.

What do all these statements have in common? They are all yesterday's news. We've heard them countless times before, and they lack pizzazz.

When you're writing, try to come up with unique sayings rather than relying on recycled thoughts. Devise your own metaphors and similes. Even if they're not as clever as a well-known cliché, they will be fresh. They will be yours, and readers will remember and respect the fact that you took the extra time to come up with something original.