Semicolons Explained

            People often ask writers and editors if they have a favorite punctuation mark. For me, the answer the semicolon. The reason why I like semicolons so much is how useful it can be. This punctuation is all about creating clarity and emphasis in complex or confusing sentences. Here are a few ways you can use semicolons in your writing.

            One common and very useful function of the semicolon is to create clarity in complex lists. Sometimes commas simply don’t cut it; they create more confusion than clarity. In those situations, the semicolon can come to the rescue. Here is one example of how this function works: I’ve visited Seattle, Wa.; Memphis, Tenn.; and Boston, Ma. The commas that separate the cities from the states are necessary, but the commas for the series make everything much more confusing. Replacing those commas with semicolons clears everything up. One note about this usage is that there is always a semicolon before the conjunction. You can’t omit it the same way you would with the Oxford comma.

            This usage also works for lists that are just plain long. The extra emphasis from the semicolon can help make it clear what counts as one item in the list. You can also use the semicolon for lists within a list (talk about a complex sentence). They can separate each list, similar to how the semicolons separate the city/state combinations in the example above.

            Another function of the semicolon is separating independent clauses, either with or without the assistance of a coordinating conjunction. The semicolon creates a more pronounced pause, which is helpful when connecting multiple clauses. The longer pause also allows the semicolon to stand alone if needed and create a different emphasis than a comma would. I notice this usage most often in classical literature and news articles. For your average novel, the comma tends to do just fine, especially since sentences aren’t usually as complex.

            Before leaving this usage, I will mention that semicolons can be used with words such as “therefore” or “however.” When these words are attached to the second independent clause in a complex sentence, you can replace the first comma with a semicolon. Just don’t forget to follow the word with a comma. Also don’t assume that the word needs a semicolon every time. You have to be aware of context and make sure it belongs to only one, separate independent clause.

            The third usage for semicolons isn’t a particular function; it’s more a style per se. You can use semicolons to create emphasis and add meaning to your writing. It isn’t all that different from the way you would use commas to imply your meaning. Instead of turning to commas, you can use the longer pause from the semicolon to your advantage.

            In addition, readers often think of the semicolon as more scholarly, which is probably why there aren’t too many to be found on social media sites or fiction works. Because of this perception, you can change the tone of your writing. You can also use the semicolon occasionally to replace an em dash. That is especially useful if you’re writing is gaining enough em dashes to rival Emily Dickinson’s. The semicolon won’t be as emphatic or distracting as the em dash for your readers.

            Writers might not use semicolons as often in their writing, but that does not mean that the punctuation mark isn’t an important tool. Semicolons can create emphasis and bring clarity to your writing, depending on where you place them or what combination of words you use. They can be your friend when writing about complex topics by making it easier for your readers to understand your point.

The Fun World of Reduplication

          Every language has developed some fun quirks, and English is no exception. Reduplication is one such characteristic. It appears in many different languages, but we’ll focus on English. When you hear an example of reduplication, it sounds simple. And yet, many linguists and experts have studied the mystery of its development and rules.

What Is It?

            Reduplication is simply a form of repetition of words or sounds such as “water-water” or “wishy-washy.” This type of repetition has been in evidence in English for hundreds of years. No one is entirely sure how it came about or where it came from, but it is here to stay. It also follows specific rules, even though it wasn’t something formally introduced into the language.

Types of Reduplication

            There are several different types of reduplication. The first is simple reduplication in which the word is repeated, usually to stress that you’re talking about the real or original version of something. So, if I wanted to make it clear that I wanted you to hand me a regular water and not a coconut water, I might ask you for “water-water.”

            Another type of reduplication is consonant reduplication. The ending sound stays the same but the first consonant changes. An example of this could be “hodgepodge” or the dance called hokey pokey.

            Finally, there is my favorite type of reduplication: ablaut reduplication. This form involves the changing of vowels. Many examples exist of this one, such as “chit chat,” “zig-zag,” “tick-tock,” or “ding-dong.”

Rules of Reduplication

            What is even more interesting about reduplication is that it exists in many different languages, even those that are outside the same language family as English[1]. Ablaut reduplication follows a specific order for vowels. I’s always come before A’s or O’s. The rules of order for sounds that occur in reduplication can be found elsewhere, such as in the order of adjectives before the noun they modify[2]. Even though English is filled with reduplications, the creation of new ones has declined significantly. There are actually many established reduplications that have died out in popularity as well.

            Reduplication in all of its forms is one of the many interesting aspects of language. It exemplifies how language affects communication through context, connotation, and phonetics. People can actually clarify or convey meaning simply by repeating words or sounds. The sound of reduplication even affects how people speak, as grammar rules change depending on how vowels are ordered. You should watch out for reduplication around you. Because of its inherit marketability, it can be found everywhere. Share your favorite reduplication in the comments section!


[1] O’Conner, Patricia T. and Kellerman, Stewart, Oct. 2, 2019, Grammarphobia, Vowel movement (blog post), https://www.grammarphobia.com/blog/2019/10/vowel-movement.html

[2] Ibid.

How to Use Commas Effectively

The words you choose to write are not the whole manuscript. They need the right punctuation in order to convey your message clearly to your readers. One of the most common punctuation marks is the comma. Just because it is common does not mean that using the comma is easy. There are many functions and rules associated with the comma. Knowing the rules can help you not only use commas correctly but also to your advantage.

As far as punctuation goes, the comma is very versatile and fulfills many different functions. I could probably create an entire series on comma usage alone. The following uses are only a few of the ways commas help your writing. It’s a good idea to read about commas in your preferred style guide to learn all the different usages and their associated rules.

The first way you can use commas is in combination with a coordinating conjunction to separate two independent clauses. The comma precedes the conjunction, which is commonly and, but, or, etc. The conjunction separates the two clauses, but the comma adds an extra pause that assists the conjunction in creating a true separation. This usage occurs a lot, but it is not always so simple. Sometimes I’ll see a sentence that is technically one clause treated as if it is two because of a compound object or some other ending phrase. There needs to be at least a separate subject and verb on each side of the conjunction in order for it to qualify as two independent clauses that need a comma.

You can also use commas to create lists of words, phrases, and clauses. The one sticking point about using commas in a list is the Oxford comma or the comma that precedes the conjunction in the list. Some writing styles use it while others omit it. It is, in fact, a contentious point amongst grammarians, editors, and writers. As you can see from my lists in this paragraph, I use the Oxford comma. Occasionally, there does come a time when it creates more confusion than it solves, but I feel like that happens less often than when the comma is omitted.

Similar to its function in separating independent clauses, commas can also separate phrases and dependent clauses from the rest of the sentence, much like the phrases in this sentence. This comma function can be tricky because you must balance clarity with meaning. The pause from the comma (or lack thereof) will affect your meaning, but the comma’s placement will also affect how well your readers will understand the sentence. Dangling modifiers and other misplaced phrases happen partially because of poor wording but also because of comma placement.

A final usage for commas is signaling when something is nonessential information. Some parts of this usage really aren’t as necessary anymore as others. In the case of nonessential phrases and clauses, commas are still used regularly to separate them from the sentence. It is normally easy to identify nonessential information because the sentence will still make sense without that clause or phrase.

When it comes to nonessential words, usage is much more spotty. I don’t think many authors are worried anymore about following this part of the usage because the average reader doesn’t recognize the difference. For instance, let’s say someone is talking about their brother. If they say, “My brother David is coming for dinner,” the absence of any commas suggests that the brother’s name is essential, either because he’s not the only brother or because it is important information to the speaker. However, if the same person says, “My brother, David, is coming for dinner,” the commas now make the name nonessential, meaning it doesn’t add value to the main sentence. It’s merely been tacked on as something extra. I don’t think many authors are worried anymore about following this part of the usage because the average reader doesn’t recognize the difference. It is really a matter of how grammatically correct you want to be.

Knowing how to use commas is one thing, but it is entirely another to use these rules to your benefit. The comma can be a powerful tool, and you don’t want to waste it in your writing. You can use a comma to create different meanings or tones based on where you place it in a sentence. It is also useful for clarity and making sure your readers will understand points that might be vague or possibly confusing. Commas are essentially your way of signaling to readers so that they read your words in the way you intended.

The comma might seem like a small and unimportant punctuation mark, but it can be a powerful friend to a writer. You can use these three comma functions, and plenty of other ones, to improve the meaning and clarity of your writing.

Why You Should Use Readability Scores

            Concise language. Plain language. Readability. You have probably heard all of these terms concerning writing at some point. Even though these words are used to the point of becoming trite, they do bring up good points. Your writing does need to be clear so that you can effectively communicate with your readers. One way to make sure you are on the right track is by using readability scores.

What Are They?

            Readability scores are essentially different systems to measure how easy it is to read and understand a text. There are many ways to measure readability. One popular system is the Flesch Kincaid Readability Grade Level score, which is the one that I prefer. It’s measuring system is based on the expected reading ability of each school system grade level. It makes it easier to understand the score when you have something familiar like grade levels to compare your writing to. Knowing how your work compares can tell you how well you are conveying your ideas to your audience.

Why Should You Use Them?

            One benefit of using readability scores is to identify and remove jargon. Technical terms and buzzwords will make the readability score go up and alert you to wording that you don’t want. Long, complex words will send your work up toward a college reading level. You don’t want that if you don’t intend it for academic purposes. Readers seek out writing that is several grade levels below what they know. People prefer to save energy when they read. Even if they understand complex language, they don’t always seek it out. If your reader can’t easily read your work, they most likely won’t read it at all.

            Another benefit of readability scores is that they will help you remove fluff. All those filler words will affect your score because they muddle your meaning and distract readers. If you use the scores to help you edit, you can identify what is simply filling space and not conveying any meaning. Because readability scores can help you get an objective view of your work, they can help you point your writing in the right direction. You’ll have cleaner copy that gets to the point and keeps your reader’s attention.

            Something that I like specifically about the Flesch Kincaid grade level score is that it is easy to access. If you use either Microsoft Word or Grammarly, you can find your readability score. Microsoft Word has a special section for readability information in its Editor section. You can set it to show you your readability scores along with your word count. For instance, a quick check says that this post is at an 8th grade reading level. In everyday writing, the average person prefers about an 8th or 9th grade level of language. It makes it so that people can communicate faster and easier, without wasting time processing higher levels of language.

            Sometimes it is hard, as the writer, to know if you are clearly communicating your point to others because you are so close to your subject. Readability scores act as a gauge to help you know how concise and clear your writing is. You can use the readability score to help you play with wording and find the best way to say what you want. Both you and your readers can benefit from your using readability scores such as the Flesch Kincaid grade level score because it alerts you to what works and what doesn’t, and it makes your content more enjoyable and understandable for your readers.

How to Fix a Dead-End Plot

You’ve either made detailed plans or decided to let inspiration take you wherever it wants to go. Your novel is becoming a reality as you write your draft – until the crash. Suddenly, you discover a problem with your plans; inspiration takes you down a dead-end. What do you do next? Here are some tips to help you find a way out of your literary dead-end.

If you have hit a dead-end in your plot, you should first consider the bigger picture. Take stock of where you are and what you have at present. With this information, you can begin to assess the damage and create a new plan. The first decision you’ll want to make is whether you want to salvage what you have or brainstorm something new. Even if your dead-end is causing you trouble, it can inspire a better plotline than you originally had.

If you decide to backtrack out of your problem, your next step will be to find where you veered off in your writing. Whatever follows that point will need to be rewritten to bring you back to the right path. It will take extra time, but the work will get you back where you belong so that you can continue making progress.

There are many possibilities for you if you decide to take your troubled scenes and create something new. What you have might not work now, but you can rewrite it so that it fits within your novel better. Brainstorm and consider multiple ways the plot can unfold. For example, when I first wrote my draft, the two main characters were supposed to meet in a serendipitous moment. It sounded perfect, until I wrote it out. It felt a little too much like stalking the way it played out. So, I took the problem scene and rewrote it with a different back story. The characters now meet earlier in the plot in a much more everyday situation, and I changed the cause of their conflict so that the situation is still interesting.

It can take some time to revise what you have to become a new plot. It is helpful to use an outline in this instance because you can easily compare what you have with whatever your brainstorming creates. You can see where scenes are going and how they fit together.

Sometimes, the big picture is not the cause of your dead-end. Your trouble is in the details. Hundreds of details go into creating an engaging novel that readers will enjoy. Each detail plays a part, even if it seems insignificant by itself.

One detail to think about if you reach a dead-end is writing style. I know this sounds like an editor’s job, but it does matter during the drafting stage as well. The language you use creates the setting, determines the tone, and even decides your characters’ personalities. If your writing style is at odds with your plot, something will eventually go wrong. If your novel isn’t feeling right, but you can’t pinpoint one exact problem, it might be the language you’re using. You should consider the tone and meaning of the words you are using to see if it’s taking your plot in a direction you didn’t intend.

Another consideration is word count. It isn’t a big concern at the drafting stage, but you should keep in mind that your word count acts as a constraint on your plot. Are you allowing enough time for your plot to naturally unfold, or are you rushing it to fit the word count? Or maybe you are at a dead-end because part of the plot has dragged on for too long? The space each scene takes up can help you decide what might need to change. Maybe you should allot more space for setting up the plot, or a scene might need to be cut because it isn’t worth the space it’s taking.

If you hit a dead-end in your plot, don’t despair! By assessing your situation and creating a new plan, you can dig yourself out and create an even better plot than what you started with. By considering both the big picture and the details, you can pinpoint your problem and get your novel back on track.

Grammar Day 2021: Using Grammar Rules Effectively

            Following grammar rules is not as straightforward as it sounds. In fact, you can receive widely different answers about what constitutes a rule depending on whom you ask. Grammar has been on my mind a lot lately because March 4th was Grammar Day. As a vital part of communication, grammar and how to apply its rules is incredibly important for everyone.

            Lately, my focus has been on the practical application of grammar rules. How strict should I be in following these rules? Which rules am I following, anyway? These and many other questions plague my editorial decisions all the time.

            At least once in your lifetime, you’ve probably come across two types of grammarians: rule enforcers and rule-breakers. The grammar police are infamous. Language offers no shortage of rules to enforce, and these folks do so with passion. However, rule-breakers are just as proud of their rebellion, flaunting their ways of bending or circumventing grammar rules. So, who is right? Or do both sides have it wrong? In the words of every good editor, it depends.

To Follow or Not to Follow?

            Knowing when to adhere to a rule and when to break away is a very fine line that writers and editors must walk every day. Rules are rules, after all. If you want to share clear and understandable thoughts with your readers, rules are necessary. But at the same time, you don’t want to lose your voice or the sound of natural speech.

            A writer or editor can’t just broadly apply a set of rules or style suggestions. Language is fluid and changes all the time. If you don’t believe that, attempt to read Beowulf in its original English. Not all rules and styles last, and sometimes that change makes the language better. It provides us with a way to communicate something more clearly or exactly to others than we could before.

            But rules do serve a purpose. I don’t want you to toss your style guides out the window or burn your dictionaries. Some things are necessary. You’re most likely not writing for you, but your audience. You have a message you want to share with them. If a reader can’t understand it, what purpose does your writing serve? These rules are what make language work as communication. Grammar is necessary.

            My point in all these ramblings is that caution is needed. Grammar, while not foremost in everyone’s mind, plays a key part in how communication works. The decisions you make about following or breaking rules will affect how well people understand you and receive your message. Grammar rules aren’t the end-all-be-all, but they help you make sure your voice is heard.

7 Things You Should Have on Your Self-Editing Checklist

            For an author, self-editing can be difficult. Even if you are the type that is extra critical of your work, it can still be easy to miss things that another person can see because you are so close to your work. One way to avoid missing problems is using a checklist.

            I am nearly done self-editing my first novel. Editing my writing has taught me several lessons about what problems can sneak past even the most paranoid of editors. These lessons have made me more aware of my pitfalls and transformed my editing checklist. This week I’m sharing some of the items I’ve added. Here are seven things you should have on your self-editing checklist.

1. Names. Sometimes a character’s name will change. If this has happened, you should watch for any instances that haven’t been changed to the new name yet. You should also be careful of spellings. I’ve discovered that I was using multiple spellings for the same character’s name. You should also check names for places and things. If something has a real-life counterpart, check that you have gotten the name correct. This type of mistake is very noticeable to readers, which is why you need to make a big point of checking this over and over.

2. Timeline. You most likely worked out a timeline for your story before you started to write (unless you’re the type that prefers to wing it). That doesn’t mean you kept that timeline while you were writing. Whenever you come across a date or other reference to time, check it against other time-related facts to make sure it matches your timeline or the true events that you are writing about.

3. Italics. Italics is very useful for authors. It can represent a foreign language, emphasis, and many other types of indications. The tricky part is not overdoing it. If you use italics too often, it will lose its meaning. You should decide what you want italics to mean in your novel and make sure you uphold that standard throughout. Readers can easily adapt to whatever your italics mean if you are consistent in your usage. For instance, I’ve chosen to use it as emphasis a couple times in dialogue but mostly to represent the characters’ thoughts.

4. Capitalization. There are, of course, rules to follow concerning capitalization, but some things are a matter of style. In these cases, it is much like italics. You need to create a standard for yourself and make sure it is carried out throughout the novel. For example, I have chosen to capitalize “season” whenever I’m referring to a social season so that it stands out as different from calendar seasons. The capitalization gives extra meaning to the word and correcting that break from proper capitalization would have lost that meaning.

5. Don’t lose characters. Unless you’re writing sci-fi or fantasy, your characters should not be disappearing into thin air. As you edit, make a note of when a character comes in and check that all of those characters also have a point when they leave. Even minor characters that only briefly appear should have some kind of exit. You can’t just drop them. Your readers will most likely wonder about it and lose their focus on your actual point.

6. Details. One of the trickiest parts for both authors and editors are the details. I’ve already come across several pieces of furniture that magically changed colors. It is those types of things you need to watch out for. Keep notes of what things looked like, where things are, and other details so that you can check that they stay that way.

7. Word count. I don’t mean the word count of your novel. That you should have relatively under control. What I am talking about is the word count of each chapter. The average manuscript page is 250 words. Today, many readers are busy and have tight schedules. They can only dedicate so much time to reading. For the sake of your readers, keep a limit on the number of pages in a chapter. It might even help to break your chapters up into sections. I have been needing to adjust my chapters’ lengths because I was focused more on overall word count rather than chapter word count.  

           Self-editing can feel daunting. A checklist will help you ensure that the important details of your novel are accurate and cohesive. Keep editing and don’t be afraid to ask for help from others. A more objective set of eyes can help you see things that your readers might notice, but you wouldn’t give a second thought about. What items do you have on your checklist? Share them in the comments!

New Year, New Projects

We have nearly finished the first month of a new year, and I hope everyone is having a promising start to 2021. I am excited to say that I have several changes for Kali Tedrow Editing and a couple new projects to announce that are coming this year.

Changes in 2021

First, Kali Tedrow Editing has a couple of changes in place for 2021. You can now find me on MeWe, as well as LinkedIn and Twitter. I’ll be posting plenty of new content about writing and editing and updates on whatever projects I have in the works.

You can expect new blog posts about writing and editing as well. There will be fewer posts this year because more of my schedule is dedicated to actual editing. I believe that quality is more important than quantity, which is why I decided to change to monthly blog posts instead of weekly. If you have a topic you would like for me to write about, mention it in the comments! Also, don’t forget to subscribe to the blog so that you will know when a new post is published.

In other news, I do have openings for new editing projects in February and March. If you have a manuscript that you need edited or proofread soon, please contact me. I offer free sample edits and can give you a quote for your project. I’m open to many different types of projects, but I especially like to work with indie authors. If necessary, I am open to negotiating on price because I understand how hard it can be getting started.

Current Writing Project

Aside from my editing, I also have a couple of writing projects. I’m an editor at heart, but I’ve dabbled in writing since middle school. That hobby has, more recently, turned into a novel. I didn’t intend to publish my work when I started it, but I have changed my mind since then. It has taken a lot of editing to change a story written for fun to a manuscript worth publishing, but I am happy with the progress. The original plan was to self-publish the novel right before the holidays, but unforeseen circumstances prevented that. The new plan is to have the novel out sometime this spring. This novel is a Christian historical romance/mystery titled The Lady in Red. When I have a more exact date, I will let everyone know more about it.

New Writing Project

I also have a new writing project in the works for 2021. My first novel has been such an adventure, that I have decided to write a sequel. Now that I have characters and a setting already developed, I hope that this manuscript will be a little simpler to write. It will also help that I’m starting out with publication in mind. As of now, this next book consists of an outline and a couple drafted scenes. You will definitely be seeing updates about progress throughout the year.

New Year, Many Possibilities

This year is filled with many possibilities and projects. I hope that 2021 proves to be a better year for you and that you are as excited about it as I am. Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog and find me on social media! And if you have a manuscript in need of editing or proofreading, send me a message. Here’s to a new year!

My Services: Manuscript Evaluation

            Recently, I have been sharing the types of editing services I offer to authors. In my last installment of this series, I will be sharing a slightly different service: manuscript evaluation. If you aren’t certain about what editing your manuscript needs, an evaluation might be your answer.

What Is It?

            A manuscript evaluation is like editing. The biggest difference is that an evaluation does not include actual corrections. Instead, a manuscript evaluation is about a big picture view of your manuscript and what it needs. Because of this difference, this method can be less expensive while still giving you guidance on how to improve your manuscript.

Who Is It For?

            A manuscript evaluation might be the answer for you if you have a completed manuscript, but don’t know how much editing it needs. You don’t want to pay for heavy editing if it is not needed, nor do you want to pay for copy editing when your manuscript truly needs developmental edits. The evaluation will help you know what type of editing will be the most beneficial to you.

 It is also good for those who want advice but can’t afford a full edit. If you are self-publishing and on a tight budget, the manuscript evaluation will help you get some objectivity as you edit, without using up your entire budget.

What Does It Look Like?

            My process for a manuscript evaluation differs from my editing processes. I begin critiquing the manuscript during my first reading. I make note of persistent problems I see with mechanics, first impressions of characters, and anything else I notice as I read. By the time I reach the end, I will usually have a series of queries along with my notes. My second pass through your manuscript is meant for finding the answers to my questions and confirming my initial thoughts.

            Once I am done working out all my questions and comments, I write them out into a letter. In this letter, I will explain to you my impressions of your manuscript. Then, I will tell you what your manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses are. From there, I will give you some advice on what you can do to make your manuscript even stronger. If you request it, I will include a light markup of the manuscript. It will be most similar to a light copy edit.

Conclusion

            Writing a book can be a daunting task and editing it may sound even more difficult. Editors want to help you navigate the process. If you would like some advice on the next steps for your novel and what it might still need before publication, a manuscript evaluation might be exactly what you need.

My Services: Proofreading

            Editing is a vital part of the publication process. There are many types of editing, and their definitions can vary depending on the editor. Over the last few weeks, I have been sharing the editing services that I offer and explaining my processes. Today, we’ll be discussing proofreading.

What Is It?

            Proofreading is your last line of defense before you publish your manuscript. It is for reviewing page proofs to find any stubborn typos that survived the editing process. It also looks at format and design to make sure that everything looks right and is easy to read. As the last editing step, proofreading is by far the most detailed.

Who Is It For?

            Because proofreading is the last check before publication, it is for authors who are ready to publish their work. There should be no need to alter the text or make significant changes to your manuscript. The way the manuscript looks when proofreading is done is the way it should look after publication.

What Is the Process?

            When proofreading, I start by looking at grammar, punctuation, and spelling to make sure there are no persisting typos. Afterward, I check that the manuscript has adhered to its style guide or house style. Because this is usually the last time the manuscript will be edited, I begin proofreading during my first reading. I don’t want to become overly familiar with the text.

            Once I am done with these checks, I turn my attention to more particular items. I check images, lists, headings, page numbers, and table of contents to make sure that nothing is missing and that all are formatted correctly. Bullet points should be parallel, headings should be formatted the same, and the design should not be pulling the reader’s attention away from the text. There are hundreds of small details that can have a big affect on your manuscript and, therefore, need to be perfect.

            My last check is for quotations and references. These are hot spots for trouble that deserve special attention, which is why I take special care to ensure accuracy and completeness. Proofreading doesn’t usually include fact-checking, but I do some if I believe it is needed. After I am done checking everything, I will read the proofs one last time to make sure that it looks good and to finalize all my edits.

Conclusion

            Proofreading is the point at which you can iron out the final details of your manuscript. How your manuscript will look once it is published is decided at this stage. I try to help you with making all your final changes by thoroughly checking your manuscript’s text, style, and design.