Tag Archives: Proofreading

Self-Editing Tip #16- The Hook

16 Aug

The Short and Sweet of First Sentences and First Pages of Fiction

Today, we’re going to move away from grammar and focus on content. Specifically, I’d like to pass on a few short, but easier said than done, points that I’ve learned from a combination of professors, writing guides, and poorly written novels. Consider these while writing the beginning to any longer piece of fiction. (Let’s call a “longer” piece of fiction 5,000 words or more—anything you would hesitate to call flash fiction—or something with chapters.)

  • Chaos and confusion are not the same as mystery and suspense. You generally want to avoid beginning your text by throwing your readers into the midst of action/tragedy/horror and expect them to be intrigued enough to keep reading purely from the shock of what’s going on.
  • A reader’s choice to begin reading does not signify that reader already cares about a character, setting, or event. Beginning a story with intimate thoughts from a character or with a character in a compromised state isn’t always the best choice. Though the thoughts can give good insight into that character, they may be better placed further within the storyline once your reader cares about the character. This is because the thoughts a character expresses, though revealing, don’t matter until the reader knows how they feel about the person—are they supposed to root for or against this character? Do they love to hate this person? Are they sympathetic to what the character is going through or are they unable to relate? Introduce characters in a way that not only shows readers who they are, but also shows them why they should care. The same goes for introducing your character by way of some big event. If you go this route, make sure you’ve given readers a reason to care. They don’t know that person yet, so you’ve got some convincing to do.

In my experience, the beginning is the hardest part. By keeping these points in mind, I’ve been able to create introductions that not only familiarize readers with the setting and main character, but intrigue them into caring. Shed the notion that readers already care simply because they began to read. Remember, just because someone is curious enough to read your writing doesn’t mean you’ve gotten them to care about what you’ve written. That takes something extra—practice, for one, but also some element within the character that the reader can latch onto as important to them. This hook will be different for each reader, so creating well-rounded, realistically human-acting characters is a good place to start. Even if your characters aren’t humans, there are innate human truths and qualities that will show through because the characters have been created by you, a human.

Tell me what you think about introductions and character crafting. It’s a tricky topic. If your opinions differ or you have some strategies you’d like to share, I’d love to hear about them!

Thanks for reading.

–Amanda Marsico

Editor, Proofreader, Red Ink Enthusiast


Self-Editing Tip #15: Quotation Marks

14 Aug

Quotation Marks

On many people’s list of pet peeves is the misplaced quotation mark. I’m reminded of the episode of Friends where Joey puts air quotes around almost every word because he’s not sure how to use them. It makes for a humorous show, but can really take your credibility down a notch. On a side note, there are slews of people who have a pet peeve about air quotes in general, even when used correctly, but I digress.

Quotation marks in their most common usages 1) set apart dialogue in writing that has speech between characters and 2) distinguish information used verbatim from other sources.

Ex. of dialogue

“Go to time out, John. Is putting your hands on your friends the way you’re supposed to solve an argument?”


“What do you need to do instead?”

“Talk to them or get a teacher…”

Notice when a new speaker takes a turn talking, a new line of text is started and it is indented as if it is a new paragraph (even if it’s just one sentence long).  This rule of dialogue also applies to statements where you might repeat what someone said.

Ex. Did you just say, “I ate cats,” or, “I make hats,” Ken?

Also remember that Standard Written American English requires all commas, question marks, ellipses, etc. that pertain to what the character says go within the quotation marks. Other English-speaking nations put their punctuation outside of the quotation marks. Punctuation that pertains to the sentence as a whole, not the speech taking place, goes outside of the quotation marks (like in the example above).

Ex. of quotation

As a result, the child’s “true identity…remains hidden. This pattern distorts intimate relationships and may continue into adult life” (Schaverien 138).


Schaverien, Joy. “Boarding School Syndrome: Broken Attachments A Hidden Trauma.” British Journal Of Psychotherapy 27.2 (2011): 138-155. Academic Search Complete. Web. 7 May 2013.

In this sentence, the quotation marks surround the text which is borrowed, or quoted, from another source. Because I have taken the phrase verbatim from its original author, a source citation is needed in addition to the quotation marks in order to give credit to that author. When summarizing or paraphrasing from another author (meaning your text is not identical to the original source), no quotation marks are needed around the text, but a citation is still required. Failure to cite that borrowed thoughts are borrowed is plagiarism.

Now, back to Joey and his air quotes. Though he placed his quotes in all the wrong places, the concept he was trying to employ was the use of quotation marks to emphasize irony, sarcasm, the unusual, or the unlikely/unreal.

Ex. That “alien” you thought you saw under your bed was really just a pile of dirty clothes and some scary shadows.

Ex. Yeah, we’re too busy “working” to do that.

So, when Joey said he was, “Sorry,” that implied that he didn’t truly mean it. In the graphic, you can see another example of misplaced quotations that disrupt the meaning (semantics) of a message.  It leads you to question whether they actually DO want people to use the bottled water, and whether it really is coffee they’re making with it or not. Simple lesson to take away from Joey and bad signs everywhere: quotation marks do not increase emphasis on a word, change the intonation when read aloud, or magically make ordinary words titles of objects as in the case of “coffee.”

It’s also necessary to place quotation marks around titles of small works.

DO use quotation marks DON’T use quotation marks
Individual Poems and Short Stories Collections of Poems or Stories/Anthologies
Individual Songs Album/Opera/Musical Composition Title
Short Plays Plays with more than 3 acts
Individual Essays Collections of Essays/ Anthologies
Magazine/Journal/Periodical Articles Newspaper/Magazine/Journal as a whole
Episodes of TV or Radio Show Title of Show/Movie
Theses/Dissertations/Reports Conference Proceedings/Legal Cases
Unpublished Writing
Manuscripts Books
Art Exhibits Work of Art

Chart made based on list by: Robin. “Quotation Marks Rules: Grammar Guide.” Hub Pages. Hub Pages Inc. 2013.

Web. 14 Aug. 2013.

The less common occasion of a quote within a quote is handled with the help of two apostrophes. In this case, the innermost quotation will use an apostrophe at the beginning and end of the quotation and the outermost quote will get the full quotation marks.

Ex. As a courtesan, Angellica Bianca, much “’Like the actress [and] the woman dramatist[,] is sexualized, circulated, [and] denied a subject position.’” For actresses and writers, the ladies are prevented from having that subjectivity “’in the theater hierarchy’” (Elin quoted by Herrin 20).


Herron, Shane Michael. “’Ludicrous Solemnity’: Satire’s Aesthetic Turn.” State University of New York at Buffalo, 2011. United States — New York: ProQuest. Web. 28 May 2013.

In this essay on Aphra Behn’s The Rover, I quoted a source who quoted a source. Because the quote I used was already a quote, I had to make the original quote marks into apostrophes and then add my own quotation marks on the outside of them in order to indicate I was quoting a quote. In the citation, I noted for the reader’s clarity that my source, Herrin, quoted a source, Elin. In the end, I was quoting both of them, so they both needed credit. In a works cited page, only the source you get the quote from needs inclusion (even if it is not the original source of the phrase).

Feel free to contact me with any grammar questions you may have (on this topic or others) using the form. I also take suggestions for future topics you’d like me to cover! Looking forward to hearing from you. Write on!

–Amanda Marsico

Editor, Proofreader, Red Ink Enthusiast



Self-Editing Tip #14: Parentheses

13 Aug


Parentheses are punctuation marks used to set aside information that may be useful to the reader, but not essential. Interjectory information like explanations/clarification, comments, qualifiers, and appositives are appropriate phrases to put inside parentheses. Information enclosed in parentheses gives further detail to a sentence, but when reading, can be totally skipped without negatively impacting the sentence outside of the parentheses. Essentially, you should still have a complete thought/idea/sentence whether the reader chooses to read what’s in the parenthesis or skim over that portion.

Ex. There are five (5) shipping options for your order. –clarification

Ex. The forecast called for rain (but I’ll believe it when I see it). -comment

Ex. You will face (very) harsh consequences for failing to meet the deadline. –qualifier

Ex. Mr. Hart (the author) will be giving a special lecture tomorrow. –appositive

In each of the above sentences, you can skip the portion in parentheses and still understand the sentence. You simply have fewer details about the matter.

When using parentheses, it is important to remember to place the punctuation of the complete sentence outside of the final parenthesis unless the entire sentence is within both parentheses.


The forecast called for rain (but I’ll believe it when I see it).


(The forecast called for rain but I’ll believe it when I see it.)

Also, try not to use parentheses within parentheses. That gets confusing. Find another way to say it.

As for the strange parentheses and/or/maybe apostrophes in the image, neither parentheses nor apostrophes are appropriate for what the sign says (whatever those marks are supposed to be). For more discussion on the image, see Self-Editing Tip #10–Apostrophes.

Self-Editing Tip #13: Commas > Clauses

7 Aug

The Comma Continued: Clauses

The last subtopic of commas are clauses. We’ve already discussed how independent clauses need a comma and conjunction, or a semicolon, in order to be joined into one sentence to avoid a comma splice. Dependent clauses also require commas in order to join with a complete sentence. They cannot stand alone because they are not complete sentences, hence the name dependent. They depend on the rest of the sentence to be whole. A dependent clause can be an adverbial, nominal, or adjectival.

  • Adverbial—functions as a modifier of a verb
Purpose of Adverbial Word
Time After, as, as long as, as soon as, before, now, now that, once, since, till, until, when, whenever, while
Concession Although, even though, if, though, while
Contingency If, once
Condition As long as, if, in case, provided that, unless
Reason As long as, because, since
Result So, so that
Comparison As, as if, just as
Contrast Whereas, while
  Source: Kolln, Martha and Loretta Gray. Rhetorical Grammar: Grammatical Choices, Rhetorical Effects. 6th ed. New York: Pearson Education, 2010. Print.
  • Nominal—Functions like a noun or noun phrase
Type of Nominal Definition
Appositive Renames the subject of the sentence and adds information about it Ex. The car that hit me, the blue Volvo, was totaled.  *Note—sometimes a colon is used to introduce an appositive, but only after a complete independent clause. Ex. I’ll always have a soft spot for my first car: a silver Ford Escort.
Sentence Appositive Renames or condenses the idea of the sentences as a whole into a dependent clause. Unlike other appositives, this kind is punctuated with an Em-Dash.Ex. The movie premiere was packed with A-list stars and busy photographers—a glamorous and expensive affair.
Dangling Gerund When a verb phrase opens the sentence it requires a comma to join it. Ex. To exit the building, take a left at the bottom of the staircase.
  Source: Kolln, Martha and Loretta Gray. Rhetorical Grammar: Grammatical Choices, Rhetorical Effects. 6th ed. New York: Pearson Education, 2010. Print.
  • Adjectival—Functions as a modifier of a noun
Type of Adjectival Definition
Adjective Phrase When an adjective follows the subject of a sentence, it is set off by commas Ex. The basketball team, tall and lanky, practiced endlessly.
Moveable Participle When an adjectival phrase is moved to the beginning of a sentence in order to modify the subject, it is set off by a comma Ex. Hurrying in the morning, I tried my best to leave on time. Because it is a moveable participle, the phrase can also come at the end of a sentence, also set off by a comma. Ex. I tried my best to leave on time, hurrying in the morning.
  *Note—A participle refers to both the present and past forms of a verb when functioning as adjectivals. Present Pariciple= the –ing (gerund) form of a verb  Past Participle=the form of the verb used with “have” to form active voice and “be” to form passive voice
  Source: Kolln, Martha and Loretta Gray. “Coordination and Subordination.” Rhetorical Grammar: Grammatical Choices, Rhetorical Effects. 6th ed. New York: Pearson Education, 2010. Print.

Self-Editing Tip #12: Commas > Series and Lists

6 Aug

The Comma Continued: Series and Lists

Commas are used in series to join three or more words, phrases, or clauses.

Ex. While on the playground, the girls used the slide, the boys used the swings, and the teachers chatted.

This is different than a list because the series becomes part of one complete sentence rather than an add-on to a sentence. In a list, commas are used to separate multiple words, phrases, or clauses which have been set apart by a colon (:).

Ex. The following ingredients are needed for our cake recipe: flour, baking soda, eggs, sugar, vanilla, butter, and salt.

Shown above is a simple example of a list of individual words. When listing phrases, clauses, or complete sentences, especially those containing commas, it is important to use semi-colons (;) in place of commas to differentiate between each list item.

Ex. To make a cake, complete the following steps: cream butter, sugar, vanilla, and eggs; mix flour, salt, and baking soda in separate bowl; while stirring wet ingredients, mix dry ingredients into batter little by little.

In both series and lists, there are opportunities to use or forgo what is called the Oxford Comma (or serial comma). This is the comma before the “and” which precedes the last item in a list or series.

Ex. For breakfast, I ate bacon, eggs, and orange juice.

Consider what the sentence would really mean if the Oxford Comma was removed.

Ex. For breakfast, I ate bacon, eggs and orange juice.

The debate on which form is correct, whether the semantics of the sentence are truly changed by this comma or not, and if the Oxford Comma will ever go away is a heated one. Many newspapers no longer use the Oxford Comma. Titles like The Economist, USA TODAY, even Oxford University’s own style book no longer use this punctuation. However, the Associated Press’ most current AP Handbook release still does not end this debate. Most writers outside of the UK, Australia, (if I’ve left out a country, add to this list in the comments section) and those in the newspaper industry, continue to punctuate in this manner. It is a personal choice. I strongly believe in the Oxford Comma. Decide what it means to you—a sensible breakfast or talking to your breakfast about breakfast?


3 Aug

The time for the first contest and giveaway has arrived. No entry fee!

Enter your fiction of 5,000 words or less for a chance to win one free editing/proofreading package for your choice of writing project (30,000 words or less).

Package includes: initial project meeting by virtual media of your preference (email, instant message, Skype, in person only if in the Metro-Richmond, VA area); editing/proofreading of text no longer than 30,000 words; and final project write-up with editing summary and suggestions. This is a prize worth $1,500* awarded to the contestant with the most engaging piece of fiction.

This is an open contest, meaning there is no theme. Your only restriction is that it must be fiction 5,000 words or less. I will score from 1-4 in each of 4 categories: engaging introduction (catch my attention, make me curious about what’s coming next), continuous forward momentum (includes climax–does your story peak too soon? too late?), lifelike characters (even if they are imaginary or not human), and well-crafted conclusion (wraps up the story or suspends the moment in an inventive, pleasing, or surprising way).

To submit, email your attached text in word document or PDF form to marsicoam@gmail.com with FICTION CONTEST in the subject line by SUNDAY, AUGUST 25, 2013. Entries without the proper subject line will not be opened and will likely go to the spam folder. Please also put your email address in the header of each page of your text so that I may contact the winner via the email address used to submit. If you would like to submit a cover letter with your story, that is fine, but it is by no means a requirement. I will not accept entries from those with whom I am personally acquainted.

Thanks for reading! It keeps this blog alive. Now, it’s my turn to give back 🙂

Happy writing and good luck.


*No cash given for prize. Value of prize based on price charged to clients for identical editing package.

Self-Editing Tip #11: Coordinating and Correlative Conjunctions

2 Aug

Coordinating and Correlative Conjunctions–Coordinating conjunctions connect phrases or sentences within a single sentence as equal structures. And, but, nor, for, or, and yet are all excellent choices for employing this form for more complex sentences. Correlative conjunctions are similar, but come in pairs. Think of them as power conjunctions. Correlative conjunctions allow a writer to place emphases on certain parts of a sentence over others, compare and contrast ideas, and list in order of importance. However, the pairs must be used correctly to have these sentence-boosting effects. The following lists the prescribed pairs for correlative conjunctions: either-or; neither (and sometimes not)-nor; both-and; not only-but also. Without the proper conjunction in the pair, the first conjunction has no impact, and the sentence makes little sense.

Ex. Correct= The hotel boasts both four Michelin Stars at its in-house restaurant and a world-class spa.

Incorrect= The hotel boasts both four Michelin Stars at its in-house restaurant or a world-class spa.

To use correlative conjunctions for emphasis, consider which part of the sentence you naturally inflect when reading aloud. Write your sentence. Read it aloud. Does your voice inflect at the point you want attention drawn to most? No? Try moving the conjunction, or using a different conjunction.

Ex. The hotel boasts both four Michelin Stars at its in-house restaurant and a world-class spa.


The hotel both boasts four Michelin Stars at its in-house restaurant and touts a world-class spa.

By placing “both” before the object of the sentence, in the first example, the idea that the hotel boasts more than one extraordinary feature is emphasized. By placing “both” before the verb of the sentence, it suggests that the hotel does more than one thing. Each example is correct grammatically. On a semantic level, the placement of the correlative conjunctions can change the meaning of the entire sentence. It is up to the writer to decide what element of a sentence means the most.

To use correlative conjunctions to compare and contrast ideas use “both-and” (grouping/comparison); “neither-nor” (grouping/comparison); or “either-or” (choices/contrast) between related or opposing points to link ideas in an powerful way.

Ex. Characteristic of both cats and dogs (1) is an extraordinary sense of smell. Smell as they may, neither cats nor dogs (2) can hear as well as bats which use echolocation for sight, navigation, and hunting. It would be interesting to see which hunting method is most successful—either the dog’s sense of smell (3), useful for tracking, or the bat’s echolocation (3), useful for targeting prey.

(1) Comparison of cats and dogs

(2) Comparison of cats and dogs PLUS contrasting the pair with bats later in the sentence

(3) Giving choices between two contrasting options—dogs or bats

To use correlative conjunctions for listing, caution must be taken. When listing more than two items or ideas, “both-and” is not an option. “Both” suggests two of something. In fact, the only option for listing more than two of anything is “not only-but also.” Here, the words do not suggest any quantity or a choice between two options like “either-or” and “neither-nor” do.

Ex. Not only do we sell chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry ice cream—the classics—but also mint chip, butter pecan, crazy vanilla, orange sherbet, brownie bite, cake batter, and cotton candy.

There are obviously many ways to use coordinate conjunctions to combine two simple sentences or phrases into one complex and interesting sentence. However, equally important as matching conjunctions with their proper mate is matching sentence/phrase structures in parallel form. Just like coordinating conjunctions connect phrases as equals, the structure of those sentence parts must also be equals.

Ex. Correct= Everyone hid in the storm cellar as the rushing winds passed, tense and silent.=both adjectives

Incorrect= Your flat farmland and cutting down the trees provided the perfect landscape for a funnel cloud to form.= “Your flat farmland” is a noun phrase. “Cutting down the trees” is a gerund, a verb phrase where the verb is in the “ing” form.

In writing, the parts of a sentence need to be as consistent as your message. You wouldn’t want to contradict your main point, right? You probably also don’t want to negate your point at sentence-level with distracting disturbances in tone, rhythm, syntax, and clarity.

Coordinating and correlative conjunctions: Use them correctly, or don’t use them.

Self-Editing Tip #10: Apostrophe

31 Jul

The Apostrophe: Ownership versus Plurals—Today’s tip covers a topic which has numerous examples both of what to do and what not to do.

Look at the graphic. Can you spot the apostrophe catastrophe? It reads, “Parent’s please do not let your kid’s stand or play with the chair’s. Thank you.”

There are actually three, and let’s not even get started with the strange parentheses or half-quotation marks going on there, or even how every “T” is capitalized regardless of its placement in the word.

All three apostrophes are placed incorrectly. In this example, they aren’t needed at all. Placing an apostrophe in such a way does not make a plural noun as the writer of this sign seems to think. It means those nouns are showing ownership of something.

Ex. Ellen’s TV show is very funny.

To make a word plural, simply add an “s.” The sign should read, “Parents, Please do not let your kids stand or play with the chairs. Thank you.” I would also argue that it should say, “stand on or play with the chairs,” but semantics is not our topic.

The only instance where an apostrophe is ever needed for a plural word is when the plural noun is also showing ownership over a plural object. In cases such as these, the apostrophe belongs after the “s.”

Ex. The butterflies’ cocoons were nearly ready to hatch.

Not shown in the image, but equally important and misused, are apostrophes for contractions. These are words like, “it’s,” “aren’t,” “can’t,” “we’re,” and so on, where two words have been merged for convenience and less formal usage. It is especially important to remember the apostrophe for, “it’s,” and “we’re,” as removing it still leaves us with valid words, but drastically different implications on the same sentence.

Ex. We’re going to lunch.=We are going to lunch.

Were going to lunch.=incomplete sentence

OR We were going to lunch.

Ex. It’s time to go.=It is time to go.

Its time to go.= incomplete sentence

OR Its time to go drew near.

For more grammar information, come back regularly for new tips. Also check out Martha Kolln and Loretta Gray’s book Rhetorical Grammar: Grammatical Choices, Rhetorical Effects (6th or 7th edition). I’ve mentioned it before and will continue to do so. It’s really vital for anyone looking to learn the nuances of Standard Written American English (SWAE) or refresh what they already know.

Self-Editing Tip #9 Commonly Misused/Misspelled Words

30 Jul

Commonly Misused/Misspelled Words

Today’s tip is more of a reference which will continue to grow over time.

Look at this list of words. Do you know the proper usages?

  • Choose-present tense verb/Chose-past tense verb
  • Loose-adjective/Lose-verb
  • They’re-contraction for “They are”/Their-shows possession of something for more than one person simultaneously/There-points out a place
  • You’re-contraction for “You are”/Your-shows possession
  • To-preposition/Too-adjective/Two-noun, the number
  • Effect-noun/Affect-verb
  • Dessert-what you eat/Desert-where there’s sand
  • Edition-one of a series/Addition-the result of increasing amount or quantity
  • Setup-noun, “The whole thing was a setup, a scam!”/Set Up-verb, “Please set up those folding chairs.”
  • Backup-noun, “Do a full backup of the computer just in case.”/Back Up-verb, “Back up the computer just in case.”
  • Ad-advertisement/Add-addition
  • A lot-This is two words. Always.

This list could go on forever. Additions are imminent.

Self-Editing Tip #8: Letter Format

23 Jul

Business Letter Format—For this one, it’s easier to show and tell simultaneously. Below you’ll find a mock business letter with instructions in bold print.


Your Address (You don’t need your name here because it is in your closing) Press Enter/Return once

Your Address Cont.  Press Enter/Return twice


Date- Press Enter/Return twice


Contact Name- Press Enter/Return once

Contact Address- Press Enter/Return once

Contact Address Cont. – Press Enter/Return 4 times




Salutation: (“Dear Sir or Madam” is considered outdated and in many instances, “To whom it may concern,” is seen as too formal, sterile, or general. Whenever possible, use the Ms., Mr., Dr., or whatever other title the person may have and the full name of the contact in your salutation. “Dear Mr…” or “Dear Ms…” is ok. When gender cannot be ascertained by the name, use the name only. It is better to leave it off completely than to offend in error. Also, this name has to be the same name you addressed the letter to above your salutation. Make note of the colon, NOT A COMMA, after your salutation.)Press Enter/Return 2 times


Body of Letter (Single-spaced and left justified) Press Enter/Return 2 times


Second Paragraph if needed


Third Paragraph if needed and so on (Notice that these paragraphs have one space between each and are not indented at the beginning. In many types of letters, especially query letters, cover letters, and other correspondence where you’re asking for something, it’s nice to include something like “Thank you for your time and consideration,” at the end of your last paragraph, right before your salutation.) Press Enter/Return 4 times  




Closing, (A COMMA follows the closing when a colon follows the salutation. The salutation needs to fit purpose of letter in terms of formality, goal for your letter, status of your contact vs. your status. Some examples include: Sincerely, With gratitude, Graciously, Respectfully. When the closing is more than one word, only the first word is capitalized like, “With gratitude.”) Press Enter/Return 4 times




Name (4 spaces left between closing and typed name is for you to sign your name by hand when you print it before mailing. For electronic letters, the four spaces are only necessary if you have scanned in your by-hand signature for placement there.)Press Enter/Return 2 times


Enclosures (This is an optional and sometimes not-needed space in a business letter. If you are sending additional documents in the same envelope with this letter, like a resume or transcripts, you would write the word Enclosures one line below your typed name. If there are many enclosures, you may type the names of those documents under the word “Enclosures.” It helps to ensure that all necessary documents are noticed.)


This is the end of the mock business letter. For even more detail on business letters and formatting of many other documents, I highly recommend the Purdue OWL website.

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