List of Common Writing Errors and How to Fix Them

I am studying, The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier: How to Solve the Mysteries of Weak Writing, by Bonnie Trenga.  This are my notes from her “Top Ten Writing Misdemeanors.”

it’s vs. its
The only time it’s should be used is if you can substitute the words “it has” or “it is” in the sentence.

who’s vs. whose
who’s means “who is” or “who has”
whose is possessive:  Whose book?  Whose car?

Cliches:  Here’s a list of cliches to avoid like the plague (see what I did there)

Similar Sounding Words
similar words-2.jpg

Hyphenated Compounds
A hyphenated compound come before what it is describing.  It doesn’t need to be hyphenated if it comes after what it describes.
1.  Example: The red-haired children jumped on the trampoline.
2. Example:  The children who jumped on the trampoline were red haired.

Fewer vs. Less

  1. Fewer is used when an item is countable.
    1. Example:  There were fewer pencils in the drawer than before the party.
  2. Less is used when and item is uncountable.
    1. Example:  There were less stars visible in the city sky than the country sky.

Generic Vocabulary & Phrases the Bore Readers

Generic Phrases:
is able to
there is
it is
this is

Generic Vocabulary

More Writing Resources

Microsoft Word - VagueWordsList.doc

Wordy Writing

I am studying The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier: How to Solve the Mysteries of Weak Writing by Bonnie Trenga.  These are my notes from her chapter on Wordy Writing.

How to Tighten Up Wordy Writing

Take the wordy phrase and convert it using the formula below.

More Writing Resources

Wordy Writing Subs-2

Modifier Placement-Help Please!

Did you know modifiers can be misplaced, dangle, and squint?  Writing is hard.

In the book, The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier:How to Solve the Mysteries of Weak Writing, Bonnie Trenga provides a lesson on how to make sure our modifiers are utilized correctly.  Here are my notes from that chapter.

Modifier Placement

Beginning of a Sentence:  Keep the noun next to the modifier.

  1. The noun should come right after the comma
    1. Dressed in a purple gown, the elephant walked onto the stage.
      1. Noun:  elephant
      2. Modifier:  dressed in a purple gown
    2. Clues that a misplaced modifier begins a sentence:
      1. a past participle (past tense verb) begins the sentence
        1. Incorrect:  Dressed in a purple gown, the stage was bright that the elephant walked onto.
        2. CorrectDressed in a purple gown, the elephant walked onto the bright stage.
      2. as, like, or unlike begin the sentence
        1. Incorrect:  Unlike the ring master, the elephant walked onto the bright stage, who waited in the shadows.
        2. Correct:  The elephant walked onto the bright stage, unlike the ring master who waited in the shadows.
      3. if, it, or there occur after the comma
        1. Incorrect:  The ring master raised his arms, it was quiet.
        2. Correct:  The ring master raised his arms, the room became quiet.
        3. Better:  The room quieted as the ring master raised his arms.
      4. an -ing word begins a sentence or is the 2nd or 3rd word following a word in the chart below:
        1. Incorrect: After snapping his whip, the elephant bowed.
        2. Correct:  After snapping his whip, the ring master got the elephants attention and she bowed.
        3. Better:  The elephant bowed when the ring master snapped his whip.
          Words that Often Precede a Misplaced Modifier that Ends In

Middle/End of a Sentence

  1. Clues that a modifier has been misplaced within a sentence:
    1. a phrase begins with that or who
      1. who: describes people
        1. Incorrect: The ring master directed the elephant, who was wearing a top hat.
        2. Correct:  The ring master who was wearing a top hat, directed the elephant.
        3. Even Better:  The ring master, wearing a top hat, directed the elephant.
      2. that: describes things and animals
        1. Incorrect:  The elephant followed the ring master’s directions, that was wearing a purple gown.
        2. Correct:  The elephant that was wearing a purple gown, followed the ring master’s directions.
        3. Even Better:  The elephant, wearing a purple gown, followed the ring master’s directions.
    2. a phrase that could start with that or who, but doesn’t
      1. Incorrect: The ring master the elephant followed was tall and handsome.
      2. Correct:  The ring master who the elephant followed was tall and handsome.

Other Resources

More Writing Resources
Grammar Girl:  Misplaced Modifiers
Grammar Bytes:  Rules for Finding and Fixing Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers

6 Ways to Identify Passive Voice


I love cookies, correction, I love cookie dough, but I do not love my passive voice.  I am currently reading the book The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier: How to Solve the Mysteries of Weak Writing by Bonnie Trenga, a copy editor, to learn how to change my passive writing into words that jump off the page.

What is a passive voice?
A passive voice is a sentence in which the recipient of the verb’s action is the subject instead of the object. Let me clarify with the following sentence:

The cat spilled the bowl of milk.
Verb:  the action happening in the sentence (spilled)
Subject:  the person or thing performing the action (cat)
Object:  the person or thing receiving the action (bowl)

If we gave each part of the sentence a symbol:
Verb: = (spilled)
Subject: x (cat)
Object:  y (bowl)
We would create this equation x=y, or cat spilled bowl.

I know the equation doesn’t make sense mathematically, but I like how is shows the = separating the x and the y, or in other words, how the verb separates the subject and the object.

In a passive sentence this equation is flipped:  y=x (object verb subject)

Example:  The bowl of milk was spilt by the cat.  (bowl spilt cat)

By making this sentence passive we shift the focus from the cat to the bowl.  Please note that not all passive writing needs to be corrected, but it should be used sparingly.

6 Ways to Identify Passive Voice

I.  Weak Verbs
Weak verbs are a common indicator of passive voice, especially the verb forms of “to be” (see chart below).


  • Passive Sentence:  The bowl of milk was spilt by the cat.
  • What is the “to be” word used? (was)
  • Let’s get rid of the offending word and rearrange the sentence.
  • Active Sentence:  The cat spilled the bowl of milk.

Weak Verbs

Weak Verbs to be.jpg

II.  Past Participles
Past participles are a past tense form of a verb that usually end in -ed, -d, -t, -en, and -n.  They can be used as either verbs or adjectives.  Here is a nice resource of irregular past participles.


  • Passive Sentence:  The cat was washed by the boy.
  • What is the past participle word used? (washed)
  • We can keep the past participle, but by getting rid of the “to be” verb and rearranging the sentence we can create an active sentence.
  • Active Sentence:  The boy washed the cat.

III.  The Word “by” In a Sentence with a Past Participle
If the word “by” is in a sentence with past participle, you might have a passive sentence.


  • Passive Sentence:  The boy was scratched by the cat.
  • Do you see the word “by“?
  • Let’s get rid of the offending words and rearrange the sentence.
  • Active Sentence:  The cat scratched the boy.

IV. The Word “that”
When the word “that” is used with a form of “to be” you might have a passive sentence.


  • Passive Sentence:  The cat that scratched the boy was hissing.
  • We see the word “that,” so what is the “to be” word used? (was)
  • Let’s get rid of the offending words and rearrange the sentence.
  • Active Sentence:  The cat hissed as he scratched the boy.

V.  Nominalizations
A nominalization is a verb that has been turned into a noun, generally ending in -tion or -ing.  A nominalization can occur at the beginning of a sentence or can be hidden within a sentence.

Example 1:  Nominalization That Starts a Sentence

  • Passive Sentence:  Loathing was evident on the cats face after the bath.
  • What is the nominalization (or verb turned into a noun)? (loathing)
    • loathing is now a thing we can see on the cat’s face
  • Let’s get rid of the offending word and rearrange the sentence.
  • Active Sentence:  The cat loathed the boy for giving him a bath.

Example 2:  Nominalization Hidden Within a Sentence

  • Passive Sentence:  A loathing of the boy was evident after the bath.
  • What is the nominalization? (loathing)
    • The phrase structure “a loathing of” or “the loathing of” often idicates the use of a nominalization in the middle of the sentence.
  • Let’s get rid of the phrase a loathing of and rearrange the sentence.
  • Active Sentence:  The cat loathed the boy for giving him a bath.
    • Do you see how we gave this sentence a subject.  The passive sentence didn’t let us know it was the cat who loathed the boy, the active sentence brings the cat into the scene.

VI.  Vague -ing Words
A vague -ing word is often associated with a sentence that is difficult for a reader to follow.  It can often be changed as the sentence is rearranged, creating an active sentence.  Vague -ing words often occur after one of the following words:

Vague -ing Words


  • Passive Sentence:  The cat walked away while shaking off the water.
  • What is the trigger word and the vague -ing word? (while shaking)
  • Let’s get rid of the offending phrase and rearrange the sentence.
  • Active Sentence:  The cat shook off the water as he walked away.

More Writing Resources

Responsibilities of a Beta Reader


“You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book.”

-Margaret Atwood

A “beta reader” is a person who will read your story to see if it is a fit for the market, and they will also provide valuable feedback to fix problem areas in your manuscript.

How to choose a Beta Reader:

  1. Find a person who reads your genre…a lot.  It doesn’t hurt if they are writers, but it is not a requirement.
  2. Find a person who is opinionated, but also knows how to express their thoughts without killing your dream.
  3. Find a person who is close, but not too close…we want them to speak their minds.
  4. Find a person who understands that this is still a book in process.
  5. Fina a person who might be able to offer insight into setting, ways of life, or technical terminology.

Guidance for your Beta Reader:

  1. Provide a Clear Deadline
    1. I usually contact my beta readers a month before I send them my manuscript.  I don’t want to burden them if they don’t have time.  I usually ask that their critique be returned withing a month.  I also send a reminder a week before the deadline.
  2. How does the Beta Reader want your manuscript?
    1. Paper Copy
    2. Electronic Copy (Microsoft Word, Google Doc)
    3. Both
    4. Note:  I like to mail some fun office supplies with my manuscript, gel pens, highlighters, sticky notes, etc.
  3. How will the critique be returned?  (Provide Reminders)
    1. About a week before the deadline I send out a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) if I sent a paper copy of my manuscript.
    2. A good gentle reminder is to send a thank-you card with maybe a small gift card or thoughtful message a week before the deadline.
  4. What your Beta Reader doesn’t need to do:
    1. Line Edits (grammar, sentence structure, spelling, etc. unless something is obvious…this will take place once every piece of the manuscript it in place)
  5. Things for your Beta Reader to address:
    1. How is the Title of the book?
    2. Is the main character likeable?
    3. What are your thoughts on the other characters?  Who stuck out and why?  Is there anyone that needs work?
    4. Are there places where the story drags?  Are there parts of the story where you forgot you were supposed to be editing because you were so caught up?
    5. Where did you laugh, cry, feel anger…etc?
    6. Where did it sound more like a journal entry rather than a story?
    7. What things do you remember from the story?  Was there a favorite part?  A least favorite part?
    8. How did you feel about the ending?  Did you feel like everything was resolved?
    9. Did you have questions about certain things?  Or maybe there were things that didn’t make sense.
    10. How did you feel about the book’s length?
    11. Did the story keep you guessing or was it predictable?  Please use examples.
    12. Any other thoughts or suggestions?

Responsibility of a Critique Partner


This is by far the scariest critique.  We are in essence giving our work to people who can easily spot our errors, but this is also one of the most effective reviews you can have done.

Who is a Critique Partner? A person practicing the writing craft.

Why use a Critique Partner:  They know the craft and can use the lingo.

How many Critique Partners should I have:  2-3 per manuscript

How long should I give my Critique Partner to critique my work: About 1 month

How should I give my Critique Partner my manuscript: Ask them what they prefer (paper, Word Doc, Google Doc, both a paper and electronic copy).  I like to send paper copies along with a few fun office supplies like highlighter, sticky notes, and gel pens.

How can I thank my Critique Partner:  Offer to do a critique for them, send a thank you card, maybe a gift card (Starbucks/Amazon/Writer’s Digest) or something sentimental to show your appreciation.

What should a Critique Partner Not Address:

  1. Spelling/Punctuation (unless they see a glaring error…lie/lay/laid/lain)
  2. Avoid line editing because most likely the entire manuscript will change after the critique

What should I do when I get my manuscript back from my Critique Partner?

  1. Wait until all critiques are back before opening them.  (Give your Critique Partner’s a gentle nudge a week before the deadline.  We are all busy.  If you sent a paper manuscript maybe send a self-addressed stamped envelope SASE to them.)
  2. Go through your manuscript page by page with the critiques in hand.  Make notes but don’t make edits.
  3. Walk away for a week and think about their suggestions.  Remember, it is your work so don’t make changes you aren’t comfortable with, but if all of your critiques address similar issues, those may be things that need attention.
  4. Send out your thank-you’s and edit your manuscript.

What should a Critique Partner Address:


  1. Is tension created at the outset of the book?  What is the conflict?
  2. Is there an overarching conflict that grows to the climax and is addressed in the resolution?
  3. Do the conflicts increase, making the character work harder as the story progresses?  Does the reader care about if the character succeeds?
  4. Is there too little or too much conflict, and is that conflict relevant to the overall story?
  5. Are there any scenes left adeptly hanging?
  6. What elements/clues/details propel the story forward and invoke tension?


  1. Does the overall plot come across clearly?
  2. Is the plot interesting and engaging?
  3. Does the plot resolve?
  4. Do the subplots work well with the overall plot and are these plots all resolved?
  5. Is it easy to follow the passage of time from scene to scene?


  1. Are there any spots that drag?
  2. How is the writing?  Is it over-wordy, vague, sentences too long, too short?
  3. Are there scenes that could use trimming?
  4. Does the pace in the different scenes either speed up or slow down accordingly?


  1. Is the setting believable?  Is it described well, under-described or overly described?
  2. Does the setting fit the mood and serve the plot?
  3. Are there too many or not enough settings?
  4. Are there boring settings?
  5. How is the setting presented?  From the character’s POV or is it in a flat narrative?

Point of View (POV)

  1. Is the overall POV consistent?
  2. Is there only one POV character in each scene?
  3. Are there some places where a different POV might be better?
  4. How well does the author get into the head of the character?  Does that character sound authentic?
  5. Are the readers able to feel what the character is feeling or is the author telling the reader how to feel?


  1. Is the writing fresh and original?
  2. How well does the overall tone work for the story?
  3. Does the writing have too many cliches?
  4. Are there words or sentences that seem out of place, too complex or simple for the story?

Character Development

  1. Is the protagonist (main character) clearly presented?
  2. Does the protagonist behave and speak consistent with their backgrounds & upbringing?  Do they have depth?
  3. Does the protagonist have a clear arc that shows growth/change/decision/resolution?
  4. Do the secondary characters enhance and enrich the protagonist’s story?
  5. Is there too much or not enough description of the characters?
  6. Are there too many characters or too much time spent on a secondary character?


  1. Does each character speak differently?
  2. Is there too much, not enough?
  3. Is the dialogue stiff, uninteresting, too wordy?
  4. Does the dialogue sound natural?
  5. Are there places where dialogue could be added or removed?  Is there an info dump happening?

Overall Feel

  1. Does the book work? Does it hold together? Does it make sense and hold the reader?
  2. Is the idea original enough?
  3. Does the book feel too long or too short?  Are there missing scenes?
  4. Is the overall theme well delivered?
  5. Is the theme brought out well in the title and opening and closing chapters?
  6. Is there a sense of completion or resolution?
  7. Is the writing clear as to what audience the author is attempting to reach? (i.e. YA with thoughts overly sophisticated, too much sex or violence that might be inappropriate)

Perfect Pitch: Chapter 7

Talent Always Jumps off the Page

“I have found a strong consistency between the pitch letter and the completed manuscript.” -Ethan Ellenberg

Fiction Pitches (make sure you have a synopsis completed before you begin pitching)

  1. single, attention-grabbing sentence
  2. second paragraph to develop the story
  3. single, short paragraph about why you are qualified to write this book (it’s OK if you don’t have writing credentials)
    1. Don’t Include:
      1. Employment
      2. Marital Status
      3. Number of Children or Pets

Non-Fiction Pitches

  1. single, attention-grabbing sentence
  2. second paragraph about the theme
  3. third to prove why you are qualified
  4. fourth paragraph to demonstrate knowledge of the audience and competing books

“Pitch letters need to reflect the talent and professionalism of the writer.  They should be straight forward, intelligent, and reflect a good understanding of the genre and marketplace.”

-Ethan Ellenberg

Agent:  Ethan Ellenberg with the Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency

Note:  I noticed on his web-page that he is now offering “Agent Sponsored Publishing,” for those looking at the indie route.


Perfect Pitch: Chapter 6

Setting, Protagonist, Problem

This chapter was an interview between Katharine Sands & Donald Mass.  Below you will find a few excerpts that stood out to me.

Address only the Manuscript–Not the following things:

  • Author
  • Author’s Ambitions
  • Author’s Long-Term Plans
  • How Many Years You’ve Been Writing
  • How Excited You Are
  • How Dedicated You Are

Identify Your Genre “What section of the bookstore would I find my book?”
“If you can’t figure that out, simply call it a novel. I can figure out its category for myself as I read it.” -Donald Maass

What Sets Your Work Apart?
Donald received a book about ordinary divorced people who attended a support group.  That was set up in the first line of the pitch, the second line told how this book was different.  The support group is for little people.  Give the gist then give the twist.

1 in 100
“The number of short, businesslike query letters we get is maybe one in a hundred.” -Donald Maass

The Last 6 Words
“In the last line of your summary, use one of six words…If you can work in one…it helps close the presentation of the plot with a word that’s poetic and evocative.” -Donald Maass

Perfect Pitch: Chapter 5

Practicing Pitchcraft

“You need to distill your brilliance, your wisdom, and your expertise into one potent page-long brew that will leave a reader reeling from its power.” -Sheree Bykofsky

  1. “The writing you do about writing is as important as the writing itself.” -Katharine Sands
    1. “For fiction I’m really just looking for good writing, I think the letter should really pique my interest in some way.” -Anna Ghosh
  2. Reduce your novel to one paragraph…Show Don’t Tell
    1. Setting
    2. Protagonist
    3. Problem He/She Faces
  3. Build Your Platform:  How are you already promoting your book?
    1. Interview Yourself-Create Your Pitch
    2. Practice Your Pitch in the Form of a Soundbite
      1. “Pick a set of complementary descriptive words that work well together.” -Katharine Sands
    3. Identify Your Hooks
      1. “The most exciting elements to compel your reader and propel your story.” -Katharine Sands
      2. “The best query letters have a strong hook in the first two lines.” -Sheree Bykofsky
    4. Think of Your Pitch as a Movie Trailer
      1. “Your argument for your book’s life…” -Katharine Sands
      2. “Do the descriptive words, tone, and intention match?” -Katharine Sands
    5. Communicate the Excitement

Agent:  Katharine Sands with the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency



Perfect Pitch: Chapter 3

Notes to the New Writer

  1. Have Spirit
    1. “An effective query letter is a distillation of the work’s spirit or essence.  It is not the place to impress with the minutiae of your research or to encapsulate all the twists in your novel.” -Anna Ghosh
    2. “Find that magical phrase or two that expresses its core idea, the key element that sets it apart.” -Anna Ghosh
    3. “A query letter must inform, but it must also enchant.” -Anna Ghosh
  2. Know Your Reader:  This is a business.
    1. “An agent has to sell the writer’s project to a publisher.  A publisher has to sell the finished books to booksellers.  And finally a reader has to put down 25-odd dollars for their copy.” -Anna Ghosh
  3. Prove That You’re a Writer, Not a Dilettante
    1. I had to look that word up:  Dilettante-a person whose interest in an art or in an area of knowledge is not very deep or serious

Agent:  Anna Ghosh with Ghosh Literary