Warning: You enter this grammar post at your own risk.
Once you’ve had your feedback and have chopped, pruned, rewritten and reshaped your work, you’re ready to go, right? Wrong. Next, you need to don your pernickety gloves and work on grammar, spelling and punctuation. This type of revision is called a proofread and it is separate from the critique your friends gave re characters, story, POV, tone and structure.
A proofread regards layout and correct use of language. A proofread is the final polish. Never hand in a submission blighted by incorrect or inconsistent punctuation, bad grammar and misspelled words – thinking the story will shine through. They (the slush pile readers) will be turned off by your sloppy copy and will probably never read on into your story, so it won’t get that chance to shine through. If you’ve spent a year writing a novel, respect your work enough to spend another couple of weeks proofreading. It’s only common sense.
As you’ve probably read your own work countless times, you may be blind to copy mistakes. A keen eyed friend is invaluable here. Also you could cut a line-sized gap in a blank page and place it over your text to check every sentence individually, with the rest of the text blanked out. This may sound painstaking but it is a very good focusing tool.
Many emerging writers are concerned about grammar, unsure of their own knowledge and application. I’ve been an English (as a foreign language) teacher for fifteen years and can recommend the following grammar self-study book (known in the TEFL world as ‘the grammar bible’): Raymond Murphy Grammar in Use. You’ll be able to pick up a cheap copy on Amazon. Spend a night or two doing the exercises, it’ll stand to you. Also, I could wax lyrical about whether to use double or single quotes for dialogue (or to use any at all) and the difference between US and UK conventions regarding the same. However, I think the best is for you to take ten novels down from your shelf and see how the majority of them format dialogue and then apply the same convention to your work. Whichever you choose, ensure it is then consistent throughout your text.
Finally, here are some of the most common problems:
****Are you using the right “Its”? “It’s” (with an apostrophe) is short for “it is”. “Its” (no apostrophe) is possessive (ie: the dog lost its bone).
NOTE: somewhat confusingly, when you want to use the possessive elsewhere, you do use an apostrophe: “Mary’s coat”, “John’s golf club”, “the dog’s bone.”
****Same sound, different spelling (homophones). “They’re”, “Their” and “There”. They’re (they are) sitting the car. They’re listening to their (possessive) music, they’ll be fine there (preposition of place) for a while yet.
****Using “done” instead of “did” and vice versa. “Done” is the past participle of “do” and is normally used with the auxiliary verb “have”. “Did” is the past simple of “do”. (And if you have no idea what any of that means, you really do need to order that book). So, you say either “I have done my homework” or “I did my homework” – and never “I done my homework,” or “he done his homework.”
****Saying “could of” rather than “could have” when using the second conditional tense or “could” as a modal verb in the perfect tense (yeah, see that grammar book). “He could of gone to the shop,” is wrong. “He could have gone to the shop,” is correct.
And please accept sincerest apologies for sending any of you off into a coma of boredom with this grammary post – believe me, it hurt me more than it hurt you.