Monday, March 17, 2014

Ugh to the PUGS!

Jill Elizabeth Nelson here. Today's post is a topic for writers dedicated to one of the banes of our existence--PUGS. The acronym stands for punctuation, usage, grammar, and spelling. (I can hear you non-writers groaning with us on this one.) In order that this post doesn't get too long, I will only deal with the PU and save the GS for next month's writing tip.

Despite our negative visceral reaction to PUGS, it’s important to storytelling. Proper PUGS minimizes distractions that errors can provide to readers and helps insure that the story is told in a smooth and comprehensible way. 

We don’t have the time to go in-depth on the subject. However, I’m going to provide at least one tip in each of these areas, as well as an opportunity to practice your skills. Any blog reader is invited to participate, not just the writers. 

Read on to the end of this post for an opportunity to win a signed copy of my most recent release, Frame Up. 

PUNCTUATION

Those little dinky commas can become major bugaboos. One of the most common mistakes I see with commas is using them to cobble together two or more complete sentences. I call these “comma splices,” and they produce cluttered and cumbersome prose.

Here’s what I’m talking about:

Chris’s throat tightened, it must be maddening to want to remember something, but only finding bits and pieces.

Lots of readers will tra-la-tra-loo straight over this bit of strung together narrative, but more readers than we can afford to annoy will not. There are three parts to this run-on sentence. Two of the bits fit together just fine as a sentence plus a parenthetical phrase, which requires keeping one of the commas where it is. The other segment belongs on its own as a full sentence. Therefore, one of these commas must go and be replaced by a period.

Here is a possible fix: Chris's throat tightened. It must be maddening to want to remember something, but only finding bits and pieces.

Another common comma issue is the run-on sentence or fused sentence, as some call it. These types of sentences are two or more complete sentences joined by a comma without a conjunction (and, but, or) or by no punctuation at all. A run-on sentence can be fixed either by separating the two halves completely with a period or by inserting a comma along with the appropriate conjunction (and, but, or). Confused yet?

Here are a few examples:

Error: The outdoor chill began to dominate the interior of the vehicle, he started the engine.

Correction: The outdoor chill began to dominate the interior of the vehicle, and he started the engine. Or, The outdoor chill began to dominate the interior of the vehicle. He started the engine.

I prefer the first of the two suggested corrections, because it’s less choppy. An exception to that preference might be during a scene when such choppiness might feed the atmosphere of suspense.

Error: I wanted to go to the zoo we went to the mall instead.

Correction: I wanted to go to the zoo, but we went to the mall instead.

Here is an opportunity to practice. I invite you to fix the following run-on sentences:

1. The door began to open, a hand bearing a gun poked inside.

2. Chris’s hand folded over hers the warmth comforted her heart.

3. She should want to hug David, she’d rather slap him.

USAGE

One of the most common usage issues that I run across concerns a mix-up about when to use “I” or “me.”

For instance:

She wanted to see Steve and I.

If you remove the words, “Steve and,” it becomes clear that the correct pronoun in this instance is “me.”

On the other hand, it would be correct to say: Steve and I wanted to see her. You verify that by removing “Steve and.” The incorrect construction would be: Steve and me wanted to see her.

Another issue I see frequently is lack of subject and verb agreement in regard to singular or plural usage.

For instance:

Each of the men are likely to take offense.

Each is singular; therefore, the verb must agree with it. The sentence should be: Each of the men is likely to take offense.

I challenge you to fix the following errors:

1. Which of the movies are showing?

2. All except Tim is going along.

3. One of the athletes were disqualified.

If you actually tackle one of these exercises, go ahead and offer your results in a comment, along with contact information. Then you will be entered into a drawing for a copy of Frame Up. Take your courage in hand and chime in!

11 comments:

  1. Which of the movies is showing?
    All except Tim are going along.
    One of the athletes was disqualified.

    mauback55 at gmail dot com

    ReplyDelete
  2. 1. The door began to open. A hand bearing a gun poked inside. (Choppiness to feed the atmosphere of suspense.)

    2. Chris’s hand folded over hers, and the warmth comforted her heart.

    3. She should want to hug David, but she’d rather slap him.


    1. Which of the movies is showing?

    2. All except Tim are going along.

    3. One of the athletes was disqualified.

    texaggs2000 at gmail dot com

    ReplyDelete
  3. Here´s my take:

    Here is an opportunity to practice. I invite you to fix the following run-on sentences:

    1. The door began to open. A hand bearing a gun poked inside.

    2. Chris’s hand folded over hers and the warmth comforted her heart.

    3. She should want to hug David, but she’d rather slap him.

    1. Which of the movies is showing?

    2. All except Tim are going along.

    3. One of the athletes was disqualified.

    Janka
    janka(dot)halcinova(at)gmail(dot)com

    ReplyDelete
  4. I'm pretty sure my editor has banged her head on the desk a few times about my whimsical use of the comma!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Whimsical uses are quite common, Dana. Love that phraseology!

      Delete
  5. 1. The door began to open; a hand bearing a gun poked inside.
    2. Chris’s hand folded over hers; the warmth comforted her heart.
    3. She should want to hug David, but she’d rather slap him.

    1. Which of the movies is showing?
    2. Everyone except Tim is going along.
    3. One of the athletes was disqualified.

    bn100candg at hotmail dot com

    ReplyDelete
  6. 1. Which of the movies is showing?

    2. All except Tim are going along.

    3. One of the athletes was disqualified.

    ReplyDelete
  7. This is actually right up my ally! I'm always correcting my friends' writing - drives them crazy! :)
    1) The door began to open. A hand bearing a gun poked inside.
    2) Chris' hand folder over hers. The warmth comforted her heart. (I prefer to skip the second s in Chris')
    3) She should want to hug David, but she'd rather slap him.

    bookluver1492[at]gmail[dot]com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Congratulations, Sarah! You are the winner of a signed copy of Frame Up! Thanks for chiming in on this post.

      Delete
  8. Which of the movies is showing?
    All except Tim are going along.
    One of the athletes was disqualified.
    Martha T. at CRPrairie1(at)imonmail(dot)com.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Glad to see responses accumulating! Super job, everyone! The book winner will be announced this weekend.

    ReplyDelete