Monday, December 7, 2009

Grammar Guru: Self pronouns

Dear Grammar Guru,

Why does grammar check on MS Word so often underline the words himself or herself?
Also, I wanted to say, “This time the gossip came from his own sister.” Again, there was the green underline for the word “own”.


Annoyed with Underlines

Dear Ms. Annoyed,

I can only speculate about MS Word's reason for underlining himself and herself. The -self pronouns may be either reflexive or intensive pronouns. They must have an antecedent--another noun or pronoun to refer to.

A reflexive pronoun is always the object of a verb, a preposition, or a verbal.


The dectective disguised himself. (Himself is the object of the verb disguised.)

He relied on himself to solve the mystery. (Himself is the object of the preposition on.)

Intensive pronouns provide emphasis to a preceding noun or pronoun.


He did the work himself. Himself emphasizes that no one helped him.

Do not use -self pronouns alone (without another noun or pronoun to refer to).

Correct: The detective and I talked. Incorrect: The dectective and myself talked. Myself has no noun or pronoun antecedent. Futhermore, myself is one of the subjects of talked. Would you say myself talked? Never!

Sometimes the -self pronouns are redundant. Try reading the sentence without the -self pronoun. Is it necessary?

You also asked about own in the sentence "This time the gossip came from his own sister." Own is redundant; his sister must obviously belong to him. So, omit own.
MSWord is a valuable tool, but it treats all documents as if they are business letters or academic papers.

Thanks for your questions. I hope these answers help.

Grammar Guru

Attributions (Dialogue Tags)

By Sandi Rog
Let's talk about those pesky dialogue tags, otherwise known as attributions. An attribution is "said." As in "he said, she said." If you read the following excerpt from The Master's Wall, you'll notice that there are no attributions. No, not one. In light of that fact, isn't it interesting that we knew who was talking the entire time, whether it was a soldier, David or his parents? How is that possible? Not one "said" word gave it away? How can that be?

Answer: If Character A's dialogue is in the same paragraph as the action of Character A, we'll know who's talking, so there's no reason to add "he/she said."

Attributions aren't "wrong." Using them doesn't mean your writing is poor. But if a beat of action can be used, that would be much better. Why? Beats of action can pull your reader deeper into your story. How does it do that? Beats give readers something to see, smell, touch, taste or hear; they reveal details about the character and the setting; they help eliminate useless words; and they can make the writing more active.

Notice below, we know who's talking because the action and the dialogue of each character is in the same paragraph:

"Let her go!" Abba pushed away from a soldier and lunged forward. "She has nothing to do with this!"

The third soldier rushed over, grabbed Abba and held him back. "Oh, really? That's not what we heard." He motioned toward the man touching Mamma. "Aulus, shouldn't convicts pay the full penalty for their crimes?"

The fewer attributions a writer uses, the better.

Here are some before and after examples:


"Let her go!" Abba shouted, pushing away from the soldier. "She has nothing to do with this!"


"Let her go!" Abba pushed away from the soldier. "She has nothing to do with this!"

Can you feel the difference between these two lines? "Pushed" is more active than "pushing." It gives the writing more life. A part of the scene is played out with ongoing action; the scene moves forward. The exclamation mark shows that the character is shouting, so there's no reason to tell the readers that Abba is shouting by adding, "he shouted." Also, the sentence is shorter, giving it more punch, which adds to the tension of the scene.

But what about scenes that aren't supposed to have this kind of tension? Will eliminating attributions add tension to a scene that doesn't need it? Scenes will usually have tension, just a different kind.

Here's an example where the tension is beneath the surface, rather than an outside force:

"Well, I'm glad I don't have any sin." Alethea swung her legs as she sat on the wall. She thought to scoot in closer to David so her arm might brush against his. Instead, she basked in his scent of leather and pine.

David rested his elbows on his knees and watched her, but Alethea avoided his gaze. "No one is without sin." He leaned toward her. "No one."

She glanced at him from the corner of her eye, but quickly refocused her attention on the horizon. "It doesn't make sense." She shrugged. "Why make someone die when he could clap his hands and say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' and be done with it?"

David stared at her for a while, his mouth closed as if tasting her words.

Shifting under his scrutinizing gaze, she leaned forward and watched the birds soar and dance on the air in front of them.

A gentle breeze caressed her cheek as David lifted her chin. He forced her to look at him. His blue eyes fixated on hers.

"Passion," he said.

Alethea took a long shuddering breath.

"What shows greater love?" He continued to hold her chin. "Someone who sacrifices himself to save your life, or just claps his hands?"

There are times you'll want your scene to move slowly, and adding an attribution will help slow the pace or create the right rhythm. This leads to my favorite subject: breaking the rules. Notice above how after the dialogue "Passion" one attribution is used, but it works to create the right rhythm.

Depending on how attributions are used, they can also become a form of telling.

I call the following "impossible attributions" because they create impossibilities.

Chime, deliver, breathe, repeat, seethe, spat, articulate, laugh, conclude, add, roar, state, counter, muse, roar, growl, exclaim, fume, explode, and the list goes on.

Why do these create impossibilities?

A person can't "chime, deliver, breathe, repeat, seethe, spat, articulate," a statement. These vices shout amateur to editors and agents (and if not, they should). Avoid them at all costs.

Here's a quote from Newgate Callender, in The New York Times Book Review:

Mr. (Robert) Ludlum has other peculiarities. For example, he hates the "he said" locution and avoids it as much as possible. Characters in The Bourne Ultimatum seldom “say” anything. Instead, they cry, interject, interrupt, muse, state, counter, conclude, mumble, whisper (Mr. Ludlum is great on whispers), intone, roar, exclaim, fume, explode, mutter. There is one especially unforgettable tautology: “’I repeat,’ repeated Alex.”

The book may sell in the billions, but it’s still junk.

The best thing to do with “said” is to cut it all together and replace it with an action. This will create more “showing” and less “telling.” It pulls us into the story and helps us become more acquainted with the characters. Also, as I said, if one character has dialogue and action in the same paragraph, we’ll automatically know who’s talking so there’s no need to "tell" us who's talking. But if you have to use “said,” then use “said” and not some impossible attribution that hack writers love.

Dave King and Rennie Browne's book, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, goes into detail on this subject, as well as other important writing subjects.

Attributions aren't "wrong." Just use them with care.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Grammar Guru: Run-on Sentences

by Grammar Guru Wilma Acree

Editors report that run-on sentences (also called run-together sentences, fused sentences, and comma splices) are the most frequent problem in manuscripts. A run-on sentence consists of two sentences jammed together as if they are one thought. Create a mental picture of two cars in a head-on crash, and you will see the effect a run-on sentence has on the reader.

Sentences often clash together when the second sentence begins with a pronoun or with a transitional word or phrase such as however. Sometimes the second sentence contains an example.

Run-on sentences can be corrected in several ways.

Gertrude Stein moved from America to Paris in 1902 she quickly became interested in impressionistic painting.

The pronoun she begins a second thought. Therefore, the sentence needs revision.

1. Break into two sentences.

Insert a period after 1902, and capitalize she.

2. Add a Coordinating conjunction (and, but, or).

Gertrude Stein moved from America to Paris in 1902, and she quickly became interested in impressionistic painting.

Notice the comma before the conjunction.

3. Make one of the sentences into a dependent clause.

Gertrude Stein, who moved from America to Paris in 1902, quickly became interested in impressionistic painting.

After you have written a story or article, search your manuscript for run-on sentences. Go to its end and work backwards. Read each sentence separately. This may help you find run-ons and other errors. Check each sentences for pronouns and ask yourself if the pronoun begins a second sentence. Look for transitional phrases such as however, in fact, nevertheless, etc. Does the transition signal the beginning of a second sentence?

If you have a grammar question for the Grammar Guru, please email it to Put "Grammar Guru" as the subject.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


Rhonda Browning White

This week I’ve received news from clients that one has received an offer direct from a well-known publisher, and another has had an agent contact him to let him know he has a publisher interested in his manuscript. Of course, I find this almost as thrilling as if the offers were being made directly to me, because I’ve been honored to have a hand in refining these manuscripts. But what excites me even more is that these two clients have listened to what’s become Inspiration For Writers Inc.’s mantra this year: “Be patient; be persistent! And keep writing!”

In two-thousand-nine, more than in any year past, we’ve heard from agents and publishers alike that they’re receiving three- to five-hundred queries per day, per agent or per editor. That’s a lot of queries, my friends! So what does this mean to the writer? If you’re one of hundreds, do you even stand a chance at publication? Of course you do, if you’ve made certain that your manuscript is as tight as it can be and is polished to perfection. But you must also be patient and be persistent in order to receive the same glorious news these two clients received this week.

We’ve heard repeatedly this past year that, as a writer, you must plan to send out at least five hundred queries to gain this kind of interest. You can expect ninety percent of these queries to be rejected outright. Of the remaining ten percent, you may receive requests for a synopsis, the first chapter, or even a hundred pages. Of those, you can expect another percent to request your full manuscript. And of that small percentage? You’d better keep a bottle of the bubbly on hand, because you stand a great chance of having something spectacular to celebrate!

The fact is that publishing companies now own more manuscripts than they have editors to work on them, so they simply aren’t buying as many, right now. In addition, with the growing buzz of eBooks, plus small publishers gaining a stronger foothold in the face of large-publisher mergers and failures, the face of publishing, as we’ve always known it, is rapidly changing. Still, every agent and editor will tell you they’re always on the lookout for that one manuscript that makes them say, “Wow!” This is why it’s more important than ever to make certain your manuscript is in top form before you send it out the door. Like the old saying goes, “You only have one chance to make a first impression.”

Now, if you have a brilliant piece of work in your hands, the question remains, do you have the patience—and the persistence—to send out hundreds of queries? Will you do your homework by pouring through seemingly endless lists of agents and publishers to see which ones are actively seeking your genre, and will you check their reputation to make certain they’re legit and not one of the charlatans who take advantage of writers desperate to see their names in print? And will you still move forward by sending out your professionally-written query letter after receiving four hundred sixty-nine rejections?

These two clients were patient and persistent, and now they’re approaching the ultra-exciting phase of contract negotiations. Can you imagine where they’d be if they’d given up after the first hundred rejections? After the next two hundred? Would they be where you are, right now?

Be patient; be persistent.

If you’ve had your work professionally edited (and you’ve listened to your editor’s advice), then you are already one giant-step ahead of most who query agents and publishers. Keep submitting. And in the meantime, keep writing. Working on your next bestseller while marketing your first will keep your mind on the thing you most enjoy (writing), and off the rejections that find their way into your inbox.

Be patient; be persistent! And keep writing!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Eat More Nouns--Advice from a Word Nutritionist

Toward the end of my day, I dropped by Facebook to see what my favorite people were doing. My youngest daughter, who is in college, had left a message that said, "Stacy just ate some noms." Now, my tired eyes read "Stacy just ate some nouns." Which isn't nearly as strange as my reaction. I was so proud of her!

Like any good mother, I spent 18 years prompting each of my children to eat healthfully and to stay away from adverbs. You see, nouns and verbs are like protein and vegetables--they are healthy for your writing. But if you drench your verbs in flavor-enhancers like helping verbs and adverbs, you add a bunch of unnecessary fat that hides the unique flavor of those healthy vegetables. If you include clich├ęs and unnecessary words (like "that"), it's the same as wrapping the lean meat of your prose in bread crumbs and dropping it into a deep fryer. Strong prose is created by using strong nouns and strong verbs. Adjectives are seasoning and should be lightly sprinkled, never globbed on or stacked three-high. And adverbs are Little Debbies--they can add unhealthy weight very quickly. You can't afford to eat them regularly.

If you're going to write strong, healthy prose, you've got to put your words on a diet and eliminate all the fat. And, once you have it nice and lean, you can build some muscle and curves by adding in details that matter.

Our Summer 2008 Newsletter has a two-page feature article called "Drop and Give Me Fifty--Creating Strong Prose Without the Flab." Feel free to download it (it's a PDF). Or, if you want one of our editors to serve as your personal trainer and help you strengthen you're writing, we do that.

Just as your body is built one bite at a time, your writing is built one word at a time.

Now, go munch on some verbs.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is educational and is not intended to serve as tax advice. Please consult your Certified Public Accountant or the Internal Revenue Service at for tax advice and preparation assistance.

Rhonda Browning White, Editor/Author

You’re not published yet, so you think this informative article doesn’t apply to you, right? Wrong! If you’re a writer—even a writer at the beginning stages of your career—you may be eligible to claim many of your writing expenses on your taxes. The IRS knows that, as writers (freelance writers, novelists, or otherwise), it may take several years to make a profit. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to report your income, however. In fact, you must report everything you earn, even that ten-dollar check you earned for the article you published in your PTA newsletter.

So, what are some of the tax deductions you might be eligible to take, as a writer? Believe it or not, there are quite a few. First, if you have a dedicated home office you may claim a portion (based on the square footage of your office in your home) of utilities, rent, home repairs, and so on. Consult IRS Publication 587 for more information and to see if you qualify. Next, you may be able to deduct furniture and equipment costs, such as for your desk, computer, printer and copier, though some of these may (or may not) need to be depreciated, dependent upon your individual situation. Of course, office supplies, such as paper, pens, laptop carrier, and paperclips can be deducted as an office expense on Schedule C.

In addition, professional services such as legal advice, accountant advice, tax preparation, and fees paid to a professional editor are usually deductible. You may also be able to deduct travel expenses (keep detailed records), writers conference fees, a percentage of related meals and entertainment, as well as advertising (such as business cards, brochures, web domain expenses, etc.).

Did you know you may even be able to deduct work-related magazine subscriptions and books from your taxes? Your subscription to Writer’s Digest, The Writer, and other related magazines, as well as books on the craft of writing, such as grammar references, writing-related books, and The Writer’s Market can be deductible. Usually, any books considered research material for a writing project may be deductible. You may also qualify to deduct professional memberships, such as to your local or state writer’s group, or to a professional writing group such as Romance Writers of America, from your taxes.

The important thing is to make sure your keep receipts and document all expenses, including the date of purchase or travel, for all of these deductions. And remember, anything you claim must be a “necessary business deduction.” Other documentation you’ll want to keep to prove that you’re a dedicated writer (even if not yet a published one), include copies of emails sent to agents and publishers; query letters and a list of individuals to whom you’ve sent them; topics of long-distance phone calls to your editor, agent, or publisher; rejection letters and monthly fees paid to your Internet service provider.

The bottom line is that, while you must maintain documentation of your business-related expenses, you shouldn’t be afraid to claim these IRS-approved deductions on your taxes. After all, you are a writer!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Writer's Prayer

The Writer's Prayer is one of our most popular pages. In case you haven't seen it on the website, here it is:

The Writer's Prayer

By Sandy Tritt

Open my mind, Lord. Grant me the talent to write with clarity and style, so my words go down rich and smooth, like fine wine, and leave my reader thirsty for more.

Open my heart, Lord. Grant me the sensitivity to understand my characters--their hopes, their wants, their dreams--and help me to confer that empathy to my reader.

Open my soul, Lord, so I may be a channel to wisdom and creativity from beyond my Self. Stoke my imagination with vivid imagery and vibrant perception.

But most of all, Lord, help me to know the Truth, so my fiction is more honest than actuality and reaches the depths of my reader's soul.

Wrap these gifts with opportunity, perseverance, and the strength to resist those who insist it can't be done.

Amen. ~ Sandy Tritt

© 1999 Sandy Tritt. All rights reserved.

If you'd like a glossy copy of The Writer's Prayer, just email your name and address to

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Welcome to Inspiration for Writers, Inc.'s new blog! And we have so much to catch up with that I'm not sure we can do it all in one post. First, if you're new to IFW, please visit our website at We offer writing tips and techniques, essays and stories about the writing life, The Writer's Prayer, an online (and printed!) newsletter, editing and critiquing services, ghostwriting services, and just about anything else a writer could want.

Second, if you just want to know more about us and what we're about, here's the scoop:

Mission Statement:
At Inspiration for Writers, Inc., our mission is to assist writers of all skill levels in achieving their writing and publishing goals. We accomplish this by teaching the craft of writing, by identifying issues that will prevent publication, by encouraging writers to bring their writing to the next level, and by supporting those writers throughout the process.

Our Symbol:
Our SymbolThe symbol for our company is the yellow rose, which symbolizes joy, friendship, and the promise of a new beginning. Some sources cite the meaning of the yellow rose as "I care." At Inspiration for Writers, Inc., we care that our editing makes your work the best it can possibly be. We believe that writing should bring joy. We believe the editing relationship must be friendly and should develop into a partnership and a friendship. We believe that through editing, your work takes on the promise of a new beginning—perhaps even leading to a new career. And we take more than just pride in our work—we care that our editing makes your writing the best it can possibly be. Our success is measured by your success.

The Golden Rule is still golden and we treat our
clients the way we would want to be treated.

Our goal is simple: to make you the best writer you can be. To that end, we start you off with a heavy dose of encouragement. Visit The Writing Life for The Writer's Prayer or to read essays and articles on what it means to be a writer. Then, spend some time studying the many Writing Tips that cover everything from character traits to controlling point of view to grammar advice--and everything in between. If you want even more tips, read one of our Newsletters, follow our Blog, or download our Workbook. Or, invite one of our editors to give a Workshop at a location near you.

When you're ready to get serious about taking your writing to that next level, check out our Editorial Services. We offer one of the most comprehensive services available at a very competitive price—and we provide a free, no-obligation sample edit so you can see our quality for yourself. If you want to know what others have to say about our work, check out our Testimonials—or see how we've helped other writers become published authors on our Success Stories page.

Or, if your goal is simply to be published, we offer Ghostwriting Services that turn your idea into a ready-to-publish manuscript—complete with your name as the author.

If you still have questions, email us. We're always here for you.