A piece of bossy advice often given to creative writers is to sweep through your manuscripts before you submit them and delete certain words. “Just,” “so,” “very,” and “really” vie for the top target, but the most popular prohibition of all might be of the word “that.”
Recently, a question that went something like this appeared in a Facebook group for writers seeking help from book editors: Help with this sentence please! “Some advice, for whoever/whomever is interested.”
An epigraph is a brief quotation placed at the beginning of a book or at the head of a chapter, article, story, or other work. Most epigraphs are ornamental, helping to set the tone or mood of a work but going unmentioned in the text.
Jack Hart has spent five decades helping writers succeed, working shoulder-to-shoulder with journalists in newsrooms both big and small and with students at five universities. Writers who’ve worked with him have written national best sellers and won prizes that include five Pulitzers and a slew of other national awards.
Recently, I was listening to the audiobook of James McBride’s Deacon King Kong, and at some point it struck me that we’d been in the middle of a sentence for quite a while. But it wasn’t just long—it was lyrical and purposeful. Pretty early on in the sentence, I began to realize it wasn’t primarily about an annual infestation of ants.
Interruptions happen all the time in real life. People talk over each other and past each other; words collide and overlap. Sometimes an action or a thought rather than a person intrudes, causing a speaker to stop abruptly or, less dramatically, to trail off midsentence.
People sometimes worry about honoring the personal pronouns of those who don’t identify with the gender binary. They’re concerned that using (for instance) “they/them” in place of “he/him” or “she/her” will be complicated or confusing.
I’ve used this space before to caution copyeditors against scrubbing voice and character out of fiction manuscripts by adhering too closely to a style manual.
Do you sometimes dither over whether to put a comma between two or more adjectives? Although the guidelines for deciding in CMOS work well for any kind of writing, there are times when creative writers prefer to ignore them.
We learn from CMOS 6.23 that “a comma is not normally used to separate a two-part compound predicate joined by a coordinating conjunction.” In other words, when the subject isn’t repeated after a word like “and” or “but” in a compound sentence, a comma is usually omitted.