Clean Your M.U.G.S.

Christa AllanChrista Allan’s debut women’s fiction novel, Walking on Broken Glass, will be published in Spring 2010 by Abingdon Press. She’s also published essays in Chicken Soup for the Coffee Lover’s Soul and Chicken Soup for the Divorced and Recovering soul.

Christa and her husband live in Abita Springs, Louisiana with their three neurotic cats. They have five adult-children between the ages of 23 and 31. Christa teaches high school English to ninth and tenth graders in the largest public high school in Louisiana.

I invited Christa to share some tips for improving your writing. Enjoy her fun look at four areas we’d be well advised to take into account before sending our work out in the world.

Check out the bottom of the post to learn how you could win some fun prizes.

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Clean Your M.U.G.S.

by Christa Allan

No, this isn’t gangsta-speak for washing your face. But this article will, hopefully, reduce the possibilities of “egg on the face” errors that can sink a submission.

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Egg-on-face

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M = Mechanics

Punctuation, capitalization, and use of quotation marks are considered writing mechanics. Without these, the engine that is your sentence can sputter. To demonstrate the importance of a comma, try to find both a love letter and a break-up letter in the following:

Dear John I want a man who knows what love is all about you are generous kind thoughtful people who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior you have ruined me for other men I yearn for you I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart I can be forever happy yours Gloria.

(Check out the two versions here: National Punctuation Day.)

One of the comma errors I see in manuscripts I judge is the comma splice. By definition, this occurs when two independent clauses are separated by a comma instead of a semi-colon, period, or a comma + a coordinating conjunction.

Comma Splice: My Uncle Fred dreads when his wife cooks, he’s afraid she will poison him.

To repair the sentence, replace the comma with a semi-colon, make two sentences by replacing the comma with a period, or use the comma and add a FANBOY (for, and, nor, but, or, yet).

Of course, there is an exception. As writers, we may be deliberately using a comma splice to create speed, excitement, or confusion. For example:

Man proposes, God disposes.

He came, he saw, he conquered.

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U = Usage

Do you remember the sound of fingernails scraping against a chalkboard? (For those of you too young to remember when schools actually used these, check out the sound here). When I see a usage error, that’s the sound I hear.

If it’s any consolation, I’ve seen Madison Avenue ad agencies make these mistakes in advertising campaigns for major corporations. For shame.

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Some common usage errors:

its/it’s

It’s time for the school to close its doors.

The confusion here comes from confusing the contraction “it’s” with the rule that one adds an apostrophe plus “s” to form a possessive. In this case, “its” without the apostrophe is actually the possessive form.

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than/then

I’d rather eat chocolate than liver. After I eat chocolate, then I want more.

In the first sentence, “than” is used to show a comparison. In the second sentence, “then” is used to indicate time.

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could/would/should have NOT could/would/should of

In conversation we sometimes hear or say, “could of.” If you’re writing dialogue, using this wouldn’t be a problem. Otherwise, the correct use is “could have.”

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between you and me NOT between you and I

Again, this error is common in print and television. In an effort to use what they think is sophisticated language, people will say, “between you and I.” Doing this is a hypercorrection. Since “between” is a preposition, the pronouns that follow it are considered objects of the preposition. “Me” is an objective case pronoun, so it is the one used in the prepositional phrase “between you and me.”

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dangling modifiers

This error usually makes for unintentionally funny sentences, which isn’t a writer’s goal when submitting to an agent or editor. We want the agent or editor to laugh with the writer, not at her.

Chirping loudly every morning, Joe could hardly sleep because of the birds.

Having submitted her manuscript, the television was turned on.

In each of the sentences above, the modifying word or phrase is not clearly stated. Joe’s not chirping, and the television did not submit a manuscript.

The confusion comes from not placing the word or phrase being modified directly AFTER the modifier. The word or phrase after the comma should be the word or phrase being described.

Chirping loudly every morning, the birds caused Joe to hardly sleep.

Having submitted her manuscript, Lisa turned on the television.

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G = Grammar

Grammar is the structural relationships of words in a sentence, the way we use language in speaking and writing, the parts of speech, and how words combine to form phrases and clauses.

The depth and breadth of grammar makes it almost impossible to discuss here, which is why sites like Grammar Girl are handy and style manuals are nifty. Here’s a site you can read that lists ten common grammar errors.

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S = Spelling

Once upon a time, writers had to rely on the dictionary to check a word’s spelling. Now, by virtue of technology, we have online dictionaries and spell check.

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Are Spell Cheque

Weave got eh grate gnu spell cheque

It kame with are pea see

It planely marques four hour revue

Miss steaks won can knot sea.

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Eye strike ah quay and type ah whirred

And weight fore it two say

Weather eye am wrong oar rite

It shows me strait aweigh.

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As soon as eh mist ache is maid

It nose bee fore to long

And aye can put the error write

Its rare lea ever wrong.

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Wee ran this poem threw it

Weir shirr yore pleased too no

Its letter perfect awl the weigh

Hour spell cheque tolled us sew.

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Anon.

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The bottom line: Don’t rely on spell check to catch typos!

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Your Questions for Christa

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Here’s your chance to ask an English teacher those nagging questions you have about mechanics, usage or grammar. I invite you take advantage of this opportunity and ask Christa what you’d like to know.

To leave a comment, click on “Comments” below the date in the title at the top of the post.

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Learn More About Christa

Visit her Web site: http://christaallan.com

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Leave a Comment for Three Chances to Win

To leave a comment, click on “Comments” below the date in the title at the top of the post.

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Special Drawing

I asked Christa to recommend a grammar book. Her pick was Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing by Mignon Fogarty. I’ll give a copy of this resource to one lucky visitor.

To enter the drawing, leave a comment for Christa by midnight Pacific Time on September 18th and enter your email address when prompted. (I don’t share your information or add it to any mailing lists.) On September 19th,  I’ll post the winner’s name here.

Congratulations to Sherrinda, who won a new tool for her reference library.

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My Regular Drawing

My next drawing will take place September 20th. The winner will receive a copy of Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott.

To enter the drawing, just leave a comment on any blog post by September 20th and enter your email address when prompted. (I don’t share your information or add it to any mailing lists.) On September 21st, I’ll post the winner’s name in the Welcome post at the top of the blog.

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You could also win a First Sale Scrapbook

If you’d like to have a chance at winning a First Sale Scrapbook created by me, your blog hostess Keli Gwyn, leave a comment on any post between now and September 30th. Be sure to include your name and email address when prompted if you want to be entered in the drawing. (Your information will not be shared.) Click red link above to see samples of covers and pages.

On October 1st, I will choose one person who will have her/his choice of covers on an 8×8 inch, twenty-page scrapbook in which s/he can document that long-awaited first sale. The pages will cover various milestones including The Call, signing the contract, receiving the first advance payment and holding your debut novel in your hands.

(No scrapbooking skills required. You just add your photos and journaling.)

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About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curves™ and reading.
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10 Responses to Clean Your M.U.G.S.

  1. Keli Gwyn says:

    Welcome, Christa! Thanks for the article filled with helpful pointers of use to any writer ready to submit an article, devotion, manuscript, etc.

  2. Linda Henderson says:

    Frankly I think it’s a good thing that people can use spell check. I don’t think the school systems today push spelling the way they used to. Back in the olden days when I attended school we had a class every day on spelling and at the end of the year you received a certificate if you have perfect spelling for the year.

  3. Sherrinda says:

    Great post, with a lot of helpful tips! What I want to know is: Does she really have 5 grown children? Seriously? Will she share her secret on looking so fabulous? Wow!:)

  4. Quilt Lady says:

    Great post Christa, I really enjoyed it. I am not sure what I would do without spell check. I have always been bad a spelling and I am not sure why. It just want sink into my head I guess. I could learn work for the spelling test and then they would be gone.

  5. christa says:

    Sherrinda,

    You’re so sweet. Yes, I really did birth all five of them. The secret is to find a good photographer who Photoshops!

  6. christa says:

    Linda and Quilt Lady:

    I agree that spell check is an incredibly useful tool. Honestly, I think spelling is one of those things that comes naturally to some people, and some not so much. My husband is one of the smartest people I know; his spelling is atrocious!

    I just try to make my students aware that spell check won’t always catch everything. For example, many of may students end up using “defiantly” when they meant “definitely.” For some reason, the incorrect spelling they’re using for definitely must bring up defiantly!

    Thanks for your comments!

  7. Quilt Lady says:

    I just went back and read my post and I can’t type either!

  8. Keli Gwyn says:

    Thanks to those who stopped by and left comments for Christa. I’m sure you picked up some great tips from her.

    I held the drawing earlier, but in the busyness of getting our daughter moved to college yesterday, I neglected to post the name. The winner is Sherrinda.

    Congrats, Sherrinda. I’ll get the book on its way to you.

  9. Sherrinda says:

    Wow! A book for my resource library! I love that is it slowly growing and helping to learn the craft better. Thank you, Keli!

  10. m says:

    were can I find more on MUGS?

Comments are closed.