Are you writing the next Great American Novel? According to an oft-quoted 2002 article from The New York Times, 81 percent of Americans believe they have a book in them – and that they should write it.
It isn’t surprising that, in November, more than 300,000 people signed up to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days for National Novel Writing Month. And because not all novelists-to-be have the time to write a solo-book, Grammarly organised a group of authors to collaborate on one novel. Clocking in at a total of 130,927 unedited words, around 300 writers from 27 countries (and 44 US states) participated in the group writing project – completing one of the 41,940 successful NaNoWriMo novels produced in November.
As part of the editing process, we ran the text of the group novel through our automated grammar checker to analyse spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes. Here are the top seven writing mistakes that our literary luminaries made in the first draft and that you’re probably making in your writing.
While unnecessary commas can turn straightforward sentences into twisting labyrinths of syntactical confusion, missing a critical comma can change the entire meaning of your sentence. Missing commas often mean the difference between politely requesting that your friends continue to have a good time (party on, friends) and actually throwing a soiree on your friends (party on friends).
Many writers neglect to use a comma before a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, etc) – making their sentences long and confusing. However, run-on sentences are often a stylistic choice for novelists. Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner both won The Nobel Prize in Literature, yet they are both known for their long, run-on sentences – as is James Joyce. Contemporary writers like Cormac McCarthy and Tim O’Brien also have literary love affairs with the run-on sentence. Would their writing be so beautiful if they didn’t?
If you try to use a comma to do the work of a semicolon, you’ve created a comma splice. Comma splices may sound vaguely dangerous, but all they are is the misuse of a comma to hold two independent clauses together. Independent clauses are complete thoughts consisting of a subject (at its simplest, a noun) and a predicate (at minimum, a verb). If you want to string two independent clauses together you need either a semicolon or a comma plus a coordinating conjunction.
Two common comma mistakes are as follows:
If you are using the comma in place of parenthesis (as you may very well be) make sure to offset the entire phrase with commas. Or should we say: If you are using the comma in place of parenthesis, as you may very well be, make sure to offset the entire phrase with commas.
Put a comma before and or but when introducing an independent clause. For example: “I wanted to write the novel, but I ran out of time.”
Definite vs Indefinite article use
This is a definite article and it means you are talking about something specific. A/an are indefinite articles used when you are not talking about something specific. In general, you should introduce something into your writing using an indefinite article – then transition to definite articles in the remainder of the text as readers become familiar with your topic.
When the same articles (a/an and the) could be repeated in the same noun phrase, delete all instances of this article except for the first one. Otherwise, readers may become annoyed by your repetition: “Sam is writing a novel about a car, a cat, a caper.”
Writers: Make sure that people know which (insert noun here) you are talking about. Do you want to write the Great American Novel or a Great American Novel? Countable singular nouns typically require an article, so you can use the, if you’re distinguishing the noun from other things; use an if you’re not.