Enlist the Power of the Grammar & Spelling Checker

For Marianne and others of us fighting trolls in our writing, we’ll take active help in our battles.

One powerful weapon in our word processing software can do more than make our words look pretty.  A special element in the software can not only check spelling and grammar but also determine the number of passive sentences.

While passive sentences can be necessary trolls, usually we writers fight to keep our sentences active.  Active subjects create power on the page.

This gadgety element gives you the Reading Ease for any document.

Newspapers are often written at a 6th grade reading level.

Consider these authors:

  • Cormac McCarthy writes at a 5th grade level.
  • J.K. Rowling = The first Harry Potter is close to 6th grade.  The last is close to 8th grade.
  • Stephen King = 6th grade level.
  • J.R.R. Tolkien = 6th.
  • John Grisham = 6th.
  • Tolstoy = 8th.
  • Michael Crichton = close to 9th.
  • The Affordable Care Act = 12th.
  • KJV Bible >> This can cause controversy because several websites list everywhere from 5.8 grade to 12th.  That might occur because some books are easier than others:  Compare Ecclesiastes to Isaiah.

I don’t remember who first said this wonderful statement, and the internet failed my search. (Surprise!  The internet does NOT have all the answers.)  But . . .

“It doesn’t take a genius to make something hard.  It takes a genius to make something easy.”

Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea is a wonderfully rich allegory with symbolic dreams and lyrical passages . . . and is written at a 4th grade reading level.

Quality of writing is not in “big words”.  Obfuscation obscures;  clarity reveals.

Quality of writing is in approach, perspective, craft.  Remember, we are in writing to communicate.

The next time you wonder if you are “showing off” rather than communicating, find out by checking the reading level.

Step 1: Go to FILE > OPTIONS.

Step 2: Select PROOFING.

Step 3: Click the box “Show Readability Statistics” so that it has a check mark.

Step 4: Click OK.

You are almost ready to rock.

Step 5: In the ribbon across the top, select REVIEW.

Step 6: To the far left is a big check mark and the words “Spelling & Grammar”. Click it.

Run the proofing check, accepting or ignoring changes as the software offers it.

When complete, you will have a pop-up window called “Readability Statistics” with all sorts of information.

Number of words, paragraphs, sentences.

Words per sentence.  Characters per word.

Most importantly, you will have the percentage of Passive Sentences, Reading Ease, and Grade Level.

Have fun checking your writing.

And don’t strive for a scholarly, erudite tone unless you want to impress a college professor.

 

 

 

Think / Pro: Overcoming Writer’s Block, part 1 of 3

Writer’s Block doesn’t exist.

Writer’s Block doesn’t exist?  Yes, I’m speaking heresy when I proclaim that.

If you’re following us, the previous blog provided a brief quiz.  At this linkI natter on about the reasons I believe that writers are buying into a great big lie.

After all, if you can write words at all, you’re not truly blocked.

Continue reading “Think / Pro: Overcoming Writer’s Block, part 1 of 3”

Grammar Phobia vs. Grammar Snobbery

Viral.

Definition 1:  relating to a virus, a disease that poisons the system.

Definition 2: relating to any media that circulates widely on the web.

Late April 2016:  a video blog (vlog) from The Guardian earned the “viral” cachet when the presenting editor inferred that grammar rules are made by the white, highly-educated segment of the population, and thus grammar rules are designed to be prejudiced against those who break them.

You can see the vlog here: Grammar Snobbery Vilified

What?  Wait.  Standard English rules are prejudiced?

No.

Actually, what the vlog editor inferred is that grammar helps communication, but some people become snobs when applying the rules.

Look, here it is, in 13 Points.

  1. Communication is both non-verbal and verbal, and verbal means spoken and written.
  2. The audience needs guides to follow communication.
  3. Those guides help the audience “read” spoken and written communication.
  4. The guides became standardized into common rules to assist communication.
  5. Certain rules that actually confuse communication became imposed on the English language. One confusing rule was made famous by Winston Churchill.  About the preposition at the end of sentences, he said, “That is a rule up with which I will not put.”
  6. The common rules became a mark of the highly-educated ~~ they usually were also the wealthy in the established (predominant) culture. Business primarily wants those who present the best image (non-verbal communication) to their clientele.
  7. In order to help those not in the upper echelons of society, the teaching of the common rules became a mainstay of the curriculum. [Originally, rhetoric (communicating to persuade) was the mainstay.]  Thus, the teaching of the rules was designed to assist the lower strata of society escape dead-end jobs.
  8. Imposition of the grammar rules by certain grammar snobs gave grammar phobia to the many who were learning the rules.
  9. We have forgotten that the rules are guides for communication—and that communication creates community through commonality.
  10. Commonality is necessary for community and is not antagonistic to diversity.
  11. Diversity in communication keeps the audience interested.
  12. Too much diversity, however, may obscure communication.
  13. Any communicator’s believability (credibility, ethos) is based on how well s/he communicates.
The Editor from The Guardian :: Does she have the final word on grammar rules? Or will the rules remain to aid communication?

Did you notice that the presenter explained her points in Standard English with an upper class accent and fully rounded tones?

Even as she debunked grammar snobbery, she proves she is a proponent of grammar snobbery.

This vlog from The Guardian reinforces the blogs on Writers’ Ink Books:  grammar should not disrupt communication.  We use grammar to increase communication, not to browbeat others.

As writers, we use grammar to manipulate our readers’ impressions of our works.

We can enchant with lyricism.

We can convert with suasion.

We can entertain.

Or we can turn off our reader.

Look at the vlog.  Would you believe this denunciation of grammar snobbery if she broke numerous grammar rules?  Or is she more persuasive because she follows the grammar rules?

Ah, we agree with her that grammar snobbery is wrong even as she disproves her own points.

Switch It Up :: Yoda Charm

Instantly Identifiable but Permanently a Gimmick

The first instantly recognizable side character from the original Star Wars trilogy was Yoda.

Why did everyone immediately fasten upon him?  Two reasons:  his Zen-like pronouncements and his inverted statements.

Classic Yoda: “This one a long time have I watched” & “Always in motion is the future.”

After his charming introduction to the world, however, came all of the take-offs:  his inversions created easy mimicry.  While some of his pronouncements sounded like truth, many became little more than gimmick.

The prior Writers’ Ink blog looked at methods of repetition.  Inversion can be just as clever as anaphora or polysyndeton.

The WHAT & HOW & WHY of Inversion

Inversion = to change the normal order of words.  The fancy Greek term for it is “anastrophe”.

Sample these:

“Yet I know how the heather looks” vs. “Yet know I how the heather looks.”

The second version is Emily Dickinson’s third line in “I Never Saw a Moor”.

As with any structural device, like polysyndeton, anastrophe (inversion) requires the reader to consider the reason for the alteration from the norm.

Dickinson presents us with simple ideas about using the mind’s eye to travel, but with the inversion we now realize she is talking about the power of imagination in comprehending life and the afterlife.  She continues: “I never spoke with God / nor visited in Heav’n / yet certain am I of the spot / as if the checks were given.”

Sample these:

“It doesn’t matter how the gate is narrow or how the scroll is filled with punishments.”

vs.

“It matters not how strait the gate, / how charged with punishments the scroll.”

Some of us recognize the opening of the last stanza of William Ernest Henley’s “Invictus”.

More inversion.  And choosing strait for narrow and charged for filled with, the classic flipping to synonyms.

Shifting ideas & words around will change our view of life and the afterlife, for as Henley reminds us, we are “the captain of [our] soul”.  We are also the captain of our writing.

CHIASMUS

Of the Greek rhetorical devices, my personal fave is the chiasmus, in which words are repeated in reverse order.  That mirror effect leads to truth.

Shakespeare is our master.  From the witches in Macbeth:

“Fair is foul, foul is fair.”

Ah, how the three witches tempted Macbeth to change his perception:  that which he had formally accepted

Mirror Image
Photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt

as good become evil to him, and that which was evil (murder) became good.

Chi is the Greek letter that looks like X.  The chiasmus is set up on that X pattern when you pair up the lines one above the other.

Try these:

> “Plan your work for today and every day, then work your plan.” ~ Norman Vincent Peale (sometimes accredited to Margaret Thatcher)

> Never let a fool kiss you or kiss a fool. ~ modern proverb

> “Do I love you because you are beautiful?  Or are you beautiful because I love you? ~ Oscar Hammerstein, Cinderella (preferred over the Disney version)

And this wonderful bit of dialogue from Emma Thompson’s Nanny McPhee:

[Nanny] “When you need me but don’t want me, I must stay.  When you want me but don’t need me, I must go.”

[Boy] “We will never want you!”

[Nanny] “Then I must stay.”

PROBLEMS

We can take inversion too far, and then like Yoda we’ll sound.  That gimmick from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back gave us an immediately identifiable character.  By now, however, the anastrophe has become cliché, and clichés must we avoid.

Find creative ways to use anastrophe, as Emily Dickinson did, and wonderful ways to use the chiasmus, as Shakespeare and Hammerstein and Thompson did.  Our readers will be happily surprised and thankful.

Our question :: can inversions help us or hinder us?

Yes.

Mistakes so Bright I’ve Got to Wear Shades, part 3 of 3

The Grammar Monster presents ~

Clear Pronoun Reference

A Backwards Approach

The true key to any communication is awareness of what interferes with the message.

Communication depends on clarity.

Approaching any message, word-based or graphic image, from the stance of “What can go wrong?” seems backwards.  However, any longtime writer will confess that is the question constantly in mind as they prepare to write.

From Business to Athletics to the Arts

“Begin with the End in Mind” is the mantra of any endeavor:  business, sports, arts, religion :: the customer, the win, the performance, Heaven . . . or Hell.

Once the idea is in place, all impediments are then removed.  As the idea progresses to reality, impediments are continually removed until the idea becomes tangible reality.

If businesses don’t start by creating smooth pathways for customers, then customers will leave.  So they should begin by identifying the blocks that will impede or frustrate their customers.

Few inventions begin with someone saying, “Great idea.”  Most inventors want to devise a better method.

Athletes create regimens by removing what interferes.

Artists don’t start painting their visions on blank canvasses.  They prep their canvas to remove any imperfections.  Then they begin.

Writing begins with idea.  Removal of impediments begins next by determining characters and GMC*, plot situation and structure, and setting.  We refine as we process, adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing.

The End is Not the End

When we all come to the end of our goal, we haven’t reached the end of our task.  We’re still putting on final touches.  And we’re thinking of the next goal that we want to communicate to our audience—even if that audience is just ourselves.

And we constantly look—beginning, middle, end—for impediments to our message.  We want those impediments gone!

Especially when those impediments are glaringly obvious.

Grammar Mistakes so Bright

Throughout this series of blogs, we’ve talked about grammar checkers and readability stats, mis-used words (“Vial Trolls”) and sentence subjects being lost (“Pesky Trolls”).  We’ve covered fossilized verbs and MisMods & DangMods.

We’ve offered ways to create emphasis and ways to add interest.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed these trips.

Clear Pronoun Reference, part 3 of 3

Pronouns cause problems when our audience cannot quickly determine the nouns they refer to.

  1. Oscar waved to his coach as he came down the escalator. >> Who is on the escalator?
  2. Oscar met up with Mike after he saw Julio yesterday and said that he had the gear. >> Who has the gear? We have 3 choices.  Who exactly saw Julio yesterday?  2 choices.
  3. Before the gate could fit the opening in the fence, it has to be made smaller. >> What needs to be smaller: gate or fence opening?

Awareness of the problem helps us avoid it, just as we noted above:  Begin with the End in Mind.  If you know you make certain errors, you will learn to spot those errors more quickly.

CPR for CPR

When proofreading, touch every pronoun back to the noun immediately preceding it.  If too many nouns have inserted themselves between your pronoun and its antecedent, divide the sentence to conquer the problem. (btw: ¶ = paragraph)

  • Oscar met up with Mike. ¶ “I saw Julio,” Mike said. “He said he’s got our gear.  We just need to pack it up.”  ¶ “When can we do that?” ¶ “Well, yesterday.” (grin)

As a rule of thumb, nouns should be in the same ¶ with the pronoun.  Repeat the noun when entering a new ¶.

FICTION follows a slightly different rule:  In training through a situation, several ¶s will occur.  Restate the noun occasionally and in different positions within the different types of  ¶s.

¶ types vary greatly:  some narration, some dialogue, some exposition, some action.

Read aloud for flow and continuity and pronoun reference.

*GMC is goal, motivation, and conflict, as first expressed in my knowledge by Deb Dixon in her book of the same name.

Think like a Pro: information

Want to be published?  The Think / Pro planner can help. [also in two cover choices, to match the manual 😉 ]

Do you start stories but never complete them?  Do you wait on your muse while she hides behind trees and in caves?

Do you know how to write, but the mountainous novel seems insurmountable, with too many words and too few days?

Do you keep telling yourself “Carpe Diem”, but days speed by before you grab several hours to write?

Time to change “Seize the Day” into “Seize the Dream.”  For success, you need to Think/Pro.  This planner can help.

The Weekly Spread

A two-page week keeps you focused on three tasks, with room to record your day-by-day focus as well as a word count tracker for daily and accumulating totals.  The Progress Meter, divided into writing stages and blocks for each ten percent of that stage, is a visual representation of your growing achievement in reaching your writing goal.

While daily word counts are important, I now advise writers to take one day off each week.  Reserve that day for planning as well as completing a creativity exercise.  On a back page is a list of 13 exercises to choose from.  Reminders of the four basic Healthy Habits (walking, water intake, sunshine, and diet) offer daily fill-ins for those who like habit trackers.

Each week also showcases an inspirational quotation from a famous writer.

Analyze your Progress with Reviews and Previews

In addition to the weekly spread are Monthly Reviews & Previews and Seasonal & Yearly Planning pages.  The planner begins with a brief look at your yearly goals, on the following page.

The Monthly Review has a Productivity Tracker and a Progress Meter as well as places to jot down Business Contacts and Expenses.  Once tax time arrives, you will have compiled the necessary information in one location.  And a Tax Tips for Writers lists on a back page the expenses you can record.

In planning, we sometimes neglect to consider obligations beyond our goals and objectives.  On the Previews is a reminder of those commitments that keep us sane.

Seasonal Previews ask you to polish the nuts and bolts of your projected words per week and sharpen up the time remaining before your deadline.  All the Reviews ask you to record your victories and consider your challenges.

The purpose of any planner is to keep us on track as well as to give us a look ahead.  In this fast-paced world, it helps to have a physical reminder, one that is not dependent on the five and more tap-clicks that it takes to access the electronic calendar on a smartphone.

Grab a pen and this planner, and quickly jot down reminders and notes.  As the Think/Pro planner is undated, you can start at any time of the year.

Available exclusively on Amazon!

Grammar Starters Set 2: 16 Lessons

A Grammar Starter leads into a lesson.

  • What do you know?
  • How do you know if it’s correct?
  • What do you not know?
  • What do you notice about the rule you haven’t learned?

Simple conversation on these four questions strengthen the foundation of knowledge.

Grammar Starters Set 2 continues the same pattern as previously, two lessons per week (Mon. and Wed.) with a review of problems on following days (Tues. and Thurs.).  If no problems were noticed, then no review is necessary.

You will need MS powerpoint to open this link.

Grammar Starters 2nd set

Errors in Grammar Starter 1 will recur in this series of lessons.  Newly noted are errors in pronoun / antecedent, dangling and misplaced modifiers, overuse of commas, finding subjects and verbs and complements, subordinate clauses, and a brief introduction of analogies.

At this point in the year, students should have a good grasp of subjects and verbs (including knowing the difference between action and linking verbs).  They should understand the complement:  action verbs lead to the direct object while linking verbs connect the subject to the predicate noun (nominative) and predicate adjective.

These 16 lessons (eight weeks) should take you through Christmas and into January.

A Word on Analogies

Analogies are not grammar;  they are a critical thinking skill.  They look for similarities and differences based on many different combinations.

An analogy sentence may look like this:

black : white : : night : ____

We read that sentence in this way:  Black is to white as night is to ____.

Black and white are simple opposites.  The opposite of night is day.

Some developers of analogies consider they have created “hard” analogies when the sentence’s “difficulty” is based on a vocabulary lack.  How many students know this one:

geese : gaggle : : quail : ____ = covey.

That’s not a hard analogy.  It’s only based on vocabulary words.

Hard analogies require students to think in new ways.

Song : poetry : : conversation : ____ = prose.  Students have to realize that poetry is very like songs and talking is basically prose.  This connects real world to the education world.

Can you complete this analogy?

____ : sorrow : : laughing : ____.

Did you say tears and happiness?  Great.

Look for the next Grammar Starter lesson set in early January.

Mistakes So Bright I’ve Got to Wear Shades, part 2 of 3

Communicating ideas is difficult enough without confusing the audience. Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers cause confusion.

MISPLACED

Exactly as its name suggests, the MisMod is just out of place.  A simple fix:  move it.

John found a green boy’s sweater.

What’s green?  The boy?  No, we haven’t found a troll.  The sweater?  Yes!

  • simple > the adjective swap > “boy’s green sweater”
  • simple > the prepositional phrase swap > “I mopped the garage with my brother.” No, I didn’t dip his head in the bucket, turn him upside down, and mop the floor.  “My brother and I. . . .”
  • not so simple > the adverb swap. Be careful with adverbs.  While they can move around in the sentence, they can change meaning.

“Only John and Alice went to the cemetery at night.” :: the only ones to go

“John and Alice only went . . . .” :: the only place to go

“J and A went only . . . .” :: sounds like the previous one, but this position suggests that other options were available.

“J & A . . . the only cemetery at night.” :: This town has only one cemetery.  BTW, this use of only is an adjective, not an adverb.

“J & A . . . at night only.” :: because they like to hang out with ghouls.

DANGLING

The DangMod is more than out of place.  We have to add / subtract / divide / multiply?

A not-so-simple fix, the DangMod may hide from us.  We know what we intend to say.  As we write, as we edit, as we run through the final proof, we may never see the DangMod.

Only rarely have I noticed a writing software’s grammar/spelling checker spotting the DangMod for your judgment to correct or not.

First Readers may not spot it, either.  However, some readers of published writing will spot it and inform us.  Dang it.  Be nice.  Thank them.  Point out the DangMod is dang hard to spot, and correct it in your document.  Keep a chart of errors.  When you’ve corrected enough to have the original document substantially better, upload the new version.

What do DangMods look like?

Wading moose that escaped the car.

Several moose were seen while traveling by car through New Brunswick, Canada.

How does this dangle?  1] Who saw the moose?  2] Who was traveling?

While traveling by car through NB, CAN, several moose were seen.  This sentence is still NOT correct.

The moose are not seeing themselves.  They still are not driving.  Their antlers aren’t sticking out the car windows.

This extreme example helps point out the very problem with DangMods:  the act-er (subject) of the verbs to see and to travel is missing.

While we were traveling . . .  we saw several moose.

After loading the dishwasher, the video gaming continued.  >> Who loaded it?  Who was gaming?

Upsetting the neighbors, the fireworks were set off early. >> Who upset the neighbors?  Who set off the pyrotechnic display?

Careful reading of exactly what we have written will help us avoid the MisMods and those DangMods.

The Crux of the Argument

Proofreading our work is never fun.  After we’re past the thrill of character and situation, after we’ve paced the plot and twisted the scenes to avoid the humdrum, after we’ve tracked symbolic images and tweaked the archetypes, yet another read of the manuscript offers no excitement.  Checking sentences and word use and punctuation is an especially oh-hum yawn-worthy task.

Yet we want to present the best possible product to our audience.  We paint our portraits with words.  Our words should carry the energy that our story needs.  That last proofread is crucial.

Alfred Smedburg’s 1912 “Bland tomtar och troll”

How do we do it?

  • Most people advise checking for spelling by reading backwards, word by word.
  • Since we’ve been concerned primarily with sentences, I advise reading backwards, sentence by sentence or paragraph by paragraph. We get the context and can still spot punctuation and spelling.

Awareness alone is often enough to solve the problem. As we become aware of our stumbling blocks, we learn to check for them.

Avoid the dangs.  Proofread.  Troll for the grammar trolls.

Mistakes So Bright I’ve Got to Wear Shades

Glaring Errors that Blind the Reader

Previous blogs have discussed “vial trolls” who aren’t captured by the machine grammar/spell-checkers.  Other errors can also escape the machine.  Some of them even escape us.  Here are three identified glaring errors:

1st: Irregular Verbs

2nd: Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers (coming up next)

3rd: Clear Pronoun Reference (coming up after)

Let’s play.

  • Irregular Verbs

Some fossils are interesting.

Some fossils are scary.

Irregular verbs are fossils from Old English, when the language itself was a dialect of German, waiting eagerly to be intermixed with Norse and French.

We often spot other people’s problems with the common irregular verbs.

TAKE >> I take, I took, I have taken:  Not “have tooken”, sweetheart; taken.

BUY >> I buy, I bought, I have bought.  Now I’m broke.

SLEEP >> I sleep, I slept, I have slept.  I am going to sleep again!

SWIM >> I swim, I swam, I have swum in the past and want to do so again on this hot day!  Whew! But not with that scary fossil.

We know the balloon burst (not bursted—or busted)!

We’ve got that the shoes stink and stank and have stunk up the entire house.

Some fossils have altered over time.  LEAP once had “leapt” but now is “leaped”.  SLEEP, however, is not becoming “sleeped”.

Even with all our knowledge, irregular verbs can trip us up.

Why, oh why, oh why?

It’s the not-so-common irregular verbs that slink into our writing and fling our readers across the room when we use them improperly.

SLAY (Watch out, writers of historical novels and fantasy) >> I slay the trolls.  I slew the trolls.  I have slain the trolls and will do so again.

BID (Here is the perfect verb to use when using dialog to create a sense of history.) >> “I bid you goodbye.”  “Look, Agatha, he bade her goodbye.”  He has bidden her goodbye and left hours ago.  Catch him before he turns into a fossil.

STRIVE >> We strive.  We strove.  We have striven.  (I encounter the error “strived” constantly in books by one author and keep intending to write an email.  Maybe it’s better if I don’t.)

WEAVE >> She weaves when driving while drunk.  That driver wove over the center line.  Because she has woven off the road, we dialed 911.

English has a lot of fossilized words, some of them no longer in use except in crossword puzzles and idiomatic expressions.  “Eke” and “wend”, the “kith” of “kith and kin”, and other words are ones that we often give “short shrift” ;).  Check them out.  Type “fossils of English language” into a search engine and up they pop (along with images of scary fossils).

Language fossils can be the very thing to give a historical or interesting touch for your setting or one of your characters.  {BUT avoid the Yoda gimmick, discussed in the last blog, “Switch It Up”.}

It’s up to you to determine if language fossils are interesting or scary, help or hindrance.

As it is, if you notice—or someone kindly tells you—that you have problems with
certain words, it will never hurt to check a dictionary, whether a walking dictionary or an “official” one in print.

My walking dictionary never failed to tell me when my use of “prove” and “proved” was invariably wrong.  I miss my walking dictionary.

Dictionaries are your friend.

And online dictionaries are really fast!

So, here’s my tribute to my walking dictionary.