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