Wednesday, April 24, 2013

TEST Your Writing Skills

How strong are your writing skills? These days more than ever, it's important to polish your manuscript--which includes an absence of spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors. Agents and editors have less time to spend on editing. Even if you're self-publishing, you don't want to present an error-riddled book to the world.

Consider your strength or weakness in this area. Try to learn WHY things are correct or incorrect; that will help you remember the rules and apply them to your writing. If grammar isn't your strength, it may be helpful to have a sharp-eyed critique partner on hand--or hire a professional editor. In the long run, it's worth it.

Can you spot the errors in these sentences? I've offered this kind of test before, but I can't stress how important it is to sharpen your writing. Don't feel bad if you get some wrong--look at it as a learning experience. To make it trickier, THREE of these are CORRECT. (heehee)

1. Tiger Bell's soft, warm fur under my fingertips soothes me.
2. Three pair of pants hung on the line, swinging in the summer breeze.
3. "Your in big trouble," said Merle. "I told you not to kick that door."
4. Absorbed in the loud, catchy beat of my song, it was hard to tell when grandpa started talking to me.
5. Sean laughs, and the tension in my shoulders eases a bit.
6. She snapped her fingers. "Are you going to stand there all day, boy?!"
7. Its a great day to go to the park, and no one can stop me.
8. To make a recipe properly, you must measure the ingredients with care.
9. What if Mom or Dad catch me sneaking a cookie from the kitchen?
10. David wants the person who's interested in his car to leave their phone number.
11. The cost of apples have doubled since last winter's drought.
12. Yesterday I just laid around reading a book and drinking tea.  
13. I could care less about whether she invited me to her stupid party.
14. If everyone would just stop talking, they could hear what I'm saying!
15. "Be quiet," she snapped. "There trying really hard to get a good score."

1. This is a correct sentence. Fur soothes. The phrase "under my fingertips" merely describes fur and is not part of the noun-verb agreement.
2. Three pairs. More than one pair are hanging on the line.
3. Your should be you're. You are in trouble. The apostrophe means a letter has been left out; in this case it's the "a" in are.
4. Dangling modifier. The intro phrase (up to the second comma) must immediately be followed by the person doing the action. You'd have to say: Absorbed in the loud, catchy beat of my song, I couldn't tell when grandpa started talking to me.
5. This is a correct sentence. Tension eases. Ignore prepositional phrases like "in my shoulders" when you're figuring out noun-verb agreements.
6. Delete the exclamation mark and use the question mark (since it's a question). Never use more than one form of punctuation at the end of a sentence.
7. Its should be it's: It is a great day. The apostrophe means the "i" has been left out.
8. This is a correct sentence. You would NOT say "to properly make a recipe," because that would split the verb/infinitive phrase "to make." Although it seems splitting infinitives is becoming way less grammatically important these days.
9. Should be catches, because Mom or Dad is singular. Mom and Dad would be plural: What if Mom and Dad catch me sneaking a cookie from the kitchen?
10. Person is singular. So it should be: to leave his phone number. Or her number.
11. The cost has. It's the cost that has doubled, not the apples. Ignore prepositional phrases like "of apples."
12. Should be yesterday I lay around, as the past tense of lie (to recline). Laid means "to place"--people can't "to place" themselves. They RECLINE.
13. I couldn't care less. Could care less would mean the person does, in fact, care.
14. Everyone is singular. So it would match with he or she rather than they. Yeah--which sounds really weird! That's why we always get this wrong.
15. They're trying, not there. See that apostrophe in they're? It means something is missing; in this case it's the "a" from they are--they are trying really hard.

How did you do on this test? Did you learn anything new?
Do you have critique partners who are sharp and catch the things you don't?
Have you ever used a professional editorial service to sharpen your manuscript before sending it off to an agent or editor, or before self-publishing?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Wonderful Tech: READERS

Note: This month my next post will be on the 4th Wednesday rather than the 3rd.

Reading Your Manuscript
It's always helpful when finishing up a manuscript to read it aloud. Not silently--aloud. It's amazing how many mistakes you can catch. Typos, odd flow, strange rhythms, repeated words. I try to read aloud through a manuscript when revising, before querying, or handing off a final manuscript to my critique partner or agent. It takes a good part of a day or two to read through a novel, but it's worth it. The trouble is, my throat gets quite sore and raspy by the time I'm done.

On Facebook, Terri Tiffany (thanks, Terri!!!) posted this weekend about using a voice reader application called NaturalReader for checking/editing a manuscript. I'd thought about using a voice reader before, but since I'm a diehard technophobe, I hadn't ever tried anything. But I followed Terri's link and scouted around the site. It looked pretty easy. They even had a FREE version with only one (female) voice, so I downloaded it to my desktop and installed it. It's easy to use! Just paste in a paragraph or chapter, and click Play. Even I can handle that.

The free version stops every so often and asks if you want to upgrade, but you can just click Later and continue on your merry (and FREE) way. The lowest paid version is $49, and has a choice of voices as well as other options like converting to MP3. Even with the free version, you can set the speed of the voice. I bumped mine slower than the default, to -2 or -3. The general flow isn't perfect, and it sounds quite electronic in places, but on the whole it works great and I'm happy to save my voice! I can even get up from my desk and stretch while I listen, or close my eyes to rest them. (Oddly, it actually sounds better and more natural when I close my eyes.)

I have to laugh when the app reads words like wind and object. Usually the voice says the wrong pronunciation for the meaning I want. It's amusing.

Voice Readers and Links
Some of these readers can even be put on your mobile, iPad, or other devices.
1. NaturalReader: HERE. Bottom of the page lists diffs between free & paid versions.
[Also available free for Mac; click on Free Version for Mac words on left margin: HERE]
2. Voice Dream: HERE  I haven't tried this one, but others use it.
3. Dragon: HERE (Highly accurate dictation; has a moderate learning curve.)
4. Microsoft Office--has a text to voice program available. If you're techy and adventurous, you can find directions how to access it by visiting youtube or the Microsoft Office site for the version you have. I tried to follow some youtube directions, but the speech program wasn't listed on my options menu and I gave up. *shrug*

I've also heard Kindle Fires read things aloud to you. Aren't we writers lucky to live in today's advanced tech world?

Do you usually read your manuscript aloud to yourself to check for flow and errors?
Have you ever tried a voice reader? What's been your experience?
If you have a Kindle Fire, does it read to you, and do you use that feature?