Libby Grandy

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Writing Tips

 Writing Tips


Below are a few general writing tips for writers.




Most editors prefer the following:


        Times Roman 12 point typeface

        Right margin not justified  

        Manuscripts double-spaced 

        Page numbers in the upper right-hand corner 

    Chapters beginning 1/3 down the page

        Your last name, slash and title (name/title) in the upper left-hand corner of every page

    At the beginning of each chapter and each section break (hiatus, etc.) begin paragraph  flush left




Several asterisks (**** ) are used to denote a hiatus—a break in time or movement to a different place. 



                        “Jim, is something wrong?”

                        “I’m not sure.  It’s complicated.”

“We need to talk.  Why don’t you come into the city tomorrow?”




            Jim watched the landscape appear and disappear through the

            train window.  He should arrive at his sister's apartment by mid-



Extra spaces and transition sentences versus Hiatus:


When the scene falls within the same period of time (later in day), a hiatus isn’t necessary.  Just add a few spaces. 



“Jim, is something wrong?”

“I’m not sure.  It’s complicated.”

“We need to talk.  Come on over.  I’ll make a pot of coffee.”


            Jim stood at the front door of his sister’s apartment.  Should he tell her



The same is true if you use a "transition" sentence.



            "Jim, is something wrong?"

                        "I’m not sure.  It’s complicated."

"We need to talk.  Why don’t you come into the city tomorrow?"


           The next morning, Jim watched the landscape appear and

           disappear through the train window.  He should arrive at his sister’s

           apartment by mid-morning.




This writing tip is for those writers who don’t want to read academic explanations, which only confuses them.  It may not fit into the classroom, but it works for me, so I’m going to share it with you.  It’s an easy way to remember when to use a comma in a sentence.


When a sentence has a noun and verb in the first part and a noun and verb in the last part, you must have a comma.  When you just have a verb in the last part of the sentence (no noun), you don’t need a comma.


Examples:  I saw the car coming, and I jumped out of the way. 

                             I saw the car coming and jumped out of the way.


You, also, need to set off prepositional phrases.  Writers often use those phrases to start a sentence.


Example:  Seeing the car coming, I jumped out of the way.


Commas are also used for pauses, a list of things, etc., but if you remember just the above rules, you are ahead of the game.




A dash is stronger than a comma.  In dialogue, it is used to show breaks in thoughts and for emphasis.  At the end of the sentence, it also denotes interruption.  Do not use dashes when commas will do.  Too many dashes on a page can distract the reader.  There are no spaces between the dash and the letters on either side of a dash and make sure you use the em dash—a long dash (length of an “m”), not two short dashes or one short one.  In some versions of Microsoft Word for PCs, you can form an em dash by typing the first word, hitting the hyphen key twice and then typing the second word (no spaces between letters).  The program should turn the two hyphens into an em dash for you. 


           Examples:  She needed to do this—for the sake of her family.


                           “I’ve told you before that I’m not going to—”

                           “I know, I know, you’ve made it clear that you don’t want 

           to get involved!”




When using an ellipsis—those three little dots that indicate a pause in the middle of a sentence or an incomplete thought—make sure you add punctuation (period or question mark) when the ellipsis falls at the end of the sentence.  There should be a space between the last letter before and after the dots and between each dot.


Examples:  "I don’t want to do this, but . . . it's time."


                  "If they were going to break up anyway . . . ."


Points of View (POV) in fiction:


The following definitions for narrative points of view are:


First Person:  The story is told from the point of view of the narrator, using the pronoun “I” and only the main character sees and experiences everything.


Second Person:  The narrator tells the story using "you," however, it is seldom used except in Self-Help books.


Third Person:  Most novels are written in this point of view.  The story is either told through the perspective of one character, using the pronoun “he” or “she” or several characters with different perspectives.


Omniscient:  The story is told through an observer who knows everything, hence—omniscient—god-like.


For first time writers, I recommend using either First or Third Person point of view.  Third Person allows a writer to get inside the head of the characters.  Authors can go into different points of view within a chapter or write one chapter in one character’s POV and the next in another’s POV.  Occasionally, you will read a book where the author jumps from one person’s POV to another person’s POV within a paragraph or page.  This can be disorienting and confusing.




Agents and editors are now saying, “Cool it with the adverbs.  You don’t need them.” So check all adverbs to make sure they are absolutely necessary. 


For example, the adverb, “absolutely” in the above sentence is not needed.  However, adverbs are often used in fictional dialogue for emphasis.  Example:  “The doctor says it’s absolutely necessary for you to take this medicine every day.”


Often used adverbs:

finally                softly                really

suddenly           actually             undoubtedly

slowly               definitely           completely

quickly              probably          exactly




Tags denote who is speaking.  In the old days, authors worked hard to use words other than “said.”  Now editors want the tags to be invisible.  They want he said/she said, believing that the dialogue should speak for itself.


There are exceptions, of course.  If the character is saying something under his/her breath, it is necessary to write, “I’m not going to do it,” she mutters (or whispers).




Writers avoid using them like the plague.  (That sentence alone should convince you not to use clichés.)  What characterizes a cliché is its trite connotation.  It may take more time to come up with the right words to express an emotion or situation, but good writing is never trite.  The definition of trite is “hackneyed with overuse,” and writers are always striving for freshness and originality.


There are two instances when clichés can be appropriate: fictional dialogue and in blogs.  Why?  Because people use clichés when they talk.  Dialogue should be as realistic as possible, and a blog is basically a monologue.


Snail Mail


When writers send out query letters (snail mail) with attachments, they should never staple them.  Agents and editors don’t like staples.  That is why you always type your name and title at the top left corner of each page.  If your letter and attachments fall on the floor and get mixed in with other letters and attachments, everything can easily be reunited. 


I hope these general writing tips are helpful to you.  If you have a question about any of the tips, please feel free to email me.


























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