Oh hell, I can just see the can of worms opening up as I write sit down to compose this. But then, I had to think about this really hard before I even started. I mean, who gives a rat's arse what my pet peeves are? But then a friend clued me in. He told me, I'm not the only one that has my brain screech to a halt and cringe when I see someone write about something walk away with "it's tail between it's legs." I'm not alone. For me, it just comes naturally to cringe. Good writing flows to me. Bad diction hits me like a two-by-four.
Does that mean I'm immune? Oh, no way. I fall prey to the clichés that I try to warn people from. I have misspellings and missing words throughout a bunch of my stories and episodes. I occasionally keep sentences that are confusing, and I'm one of the worst for not rewriting as often as I should. A lot of times, I barely scan through my first drafts before submitting them, with little to no revision. I'm human, just like everyone else.
And I've also been responsible for countless people reading my stuff and screeching, "YAHHH!!! WORD CHOICE! WORD CHOICE!", too, so I'm suggesting to you that you do as I say, not as has become a bad habit for me. Think of this as AA for this writer's bad habits. Cool? Cool. Let's get underway.
Welcome back! For those of you who have joined us in the last few sections, we've gone over a lot of things, from characters to cause and effect to touching on plot and dialogue. This time around, we're going to take a step back, so to speak, and learn a little bit less about the structure of a story, per se, and focus more on the actual structure of the writing and grammar itself.
I hear you all gagging. And that's okay, because most people like to get into the dirt of writing; stuff like plot, and setting, and description and character. Most people would prefer to leave the whole sections on grammar to English profs and editors, and never the twain shall meet. Well, I have this little bit of advice for you. Read on, because in this tute I'm going to touch on a lot of things, mostly centering around my own pet peeves, and those will touch on everything from the simplistics of grammar to the more in-depth stuff like plot, and character.
Some of these 'pet-peeves', as I've called them, have already made their way into the previous tutorials, if you've read between the lines. So you have an idea where I'm going with this. I'm going to toss out a few clichés of the genre of ASFR, a few tired old plots, a few character ideals that have been played to death, in my opinion. I'm also going to offer a few grammar and formatting suggestions that should help to keep your readers from gritting their teeth, and letting something like format or style ruin the flavor of reading your story with a bile aftertaste. I'm not trying to nitpick here, just trying to help springboard your imagination, and make all of you the best storytellers you can be.
So sit back, strap in, and have an open mind. And if you have any further questions, my e-mail is email@example.com; send 'em my way. Who knows? I may even put together a new tute sooner or later based on people's questions. Flame mails are cheerfully accepted, read, and returned with an e-text copy of "Argo's Guide To Proper Diction In Flame Mail, So You Can Sound Like A Proper Savage Ingrate", available at participating Barnes and Noble and Waldenbooks.
Ready? Here we go. Let's start with the basics.
GRAMMAR, DICTION, AND OTHER NASTY STUFF...
Oh, I hear you groaning already. Why do I have to learn grammar? I'm just trying to get a story out, to tell about my deepest, innermost fantasies, or to show people that I can tell a cogent tale, or what have you. Why do I need to keep proper spelling/grammar/diction in mind? Let me be frank here. People want a good story; they want to be whisked away to a new setting, away from the normalness of mundane life. Most people, when they boot up the computer to read, want to lose themselves to the story. Most people want to have an escape, whether it's just a short jaunt into something sexual or fantasy-related that tweaks them, or a foray into something fun, or the more in-depth journey into something deep, moving and provocative.
The reason you'll want to check yourself is this: people, even readers, tend to have attention spans that can be drawn away very easily when something confuses them or makes them stop short to verify what they've read, right? Look at the instant gratification culture we live in. Every moment that person isn't engrossed in your story is a moment that they could forget a significant detail, begin to skim, or decide to chuck it and do something else. Now, I'm not saying you have to be an editor-caliber grammatician, or an English degree holder to post a story... for the love of whatever God you might like, this is the internet. You may not necessarily be looking to go into hardcover publication.
But no matter, you still want to make sure you have a firm grasp on the basics of writing to ensure that you're not losing your reading crowds to the Playstation 2, or the latest instant-gratification movie on TV, evil vile thing that television often is.
NOTE: (The personal opinions of ArgoForg are not expected to be held by everyone. Not everyone can be a social pariah, let alone like it.)
So the best way around this is not to confuse your readers. Remember that readers, by and large, are both literate and intelligent. Many of them are forgiving, too, if you give them reason to be.
How do you get them to be forgiving? Part of that is to make a reliable name for yourself by showing that you understand simple grammar and word choice. Part of it is showing them that when they see your name, they won't get eyestrain trying to figure what you meant when you write. In the publication world, this means sealing the contract between writer and reader that you will do your best not to make them stop and scratch their heads too awful much, unless it's in wonder at how you made it look so easy. And in truth, it's not all that hard.
Start with simple grammar, punctuation, vocabulary and style. And there's no excuse, Buckwheat. The rules for basic English are available nearly everywhere, both online and off. I have a thin four book set from Barron's that cost me all of ten bucks, eight years ago, that I've consulted through a few short stories, two novellas, a few thousand pages of dialogue, and one novel. I picked up a Practical Writer's Guide Hardcover from Waldenbooks for $6.99 on special last year. The pretentious Elements of Style and less-pretentious Guide to Modern Usage is available for perusal at Great Books Online, located at http://www.bartleby.com. There are various other style and reference books available there, as well, everything from The King James Bible to Bartlett's Quotations and the American Heritage College Dictionary to Roget's Thesaurus.
I've heard arguments that all the rules of English can be bent, if not outright snapped. True, but only if you first have a good grasp of the rules to begin with. Presidents don't go suspending habeas corpus without first knowing what it represents. Scientists don't offer theories on how to bend the laws of physics without knowing what those laws are, first. Prove to your readers that you have a good grasp of the basics before you start showing that you can tie English rules in knots. In the end, they'll accept it because they know that you are doing it for effect, or for style, not because they assume you're a bush-league writer that doesn't know any better. They may not actually think that, true. But do you want to give them reason to have it even come to mind?
While you may not necessarily want to trudge through the rules for style and usage right off, however, I'm going to give you a start. Here are a few things to keep an eye out for; a few commonly confused words and terms, and a few hints for how to keep these things in mind when writing. Some of these are personal pet-peeves, some of these are terms and rules cadged from lists I've seen online and happen to agree with. A few of these come from other writers online that have posted lists of things that make for bad fanfics or online-fics, such as www.englishchick.com, who does a stellar job making it easy to see the rules of basic grammar and has a links page to several other similar pages. She also has a little area called "Bad Fanfic! No Biscuit!" that I highly suggest... it helps immensely with regular fiction, as well, besides being a hoot to read.
The basics for punctuation are available, among other places, at www.englishchick.com, and I highly recommend checking it out there. See the area marked Grammar Guides, then click on punctuation: Joan tells it like it is in clear, concise and easy-to-understand language. She gives links to more thorough usage guides, too, so if you're confused, you have a safety net. I'm not going into them full-bore here, because I'll likely bore you to tears.
The main thing I want to point out here is the comma (,) and a use of it that is a small pet-peeve of mine.
Read with me. Commas do not-- by themselves-- just indicate pauses in dialogue or exposition. Read that again. A comma has many uses, but making a speaker pause for breath/garner extra tension from a pronouncement, or indicating the place that the author might have gotten too confusing for his or her own good is not one of them. If your sentence is confusing spoken as-is, if your description has a pair of bunched terms like is or that which you think the reader might find confusing, then reparse the sentence, rewrite the dialogue, or rehash the description so that you aren't confusing.
If your character needs to pause for breath or dramatic effect, use an elipsis (...). If the sentence allows for it and cannot be reparsed, use a colon for pronouncements if it fits.
"I want to do something, but, I don't know what." <-- INCORRECT.
"I want to do something, but I don't know what." <-- CORRECT.
"What I'm trying to say is, he might become a monster."
"What I'm trying to say is this: (OR ...) he might become a monster." <-- BETTER.
"He might become a monster. That's what I'm trying to say." <-- REPARSED. BETTER YET.
"But I don't know if it's that, that we should be worried
about." <-- INCORRECT.
"But I don't know if it's that that we should be worried about." <-- CORRECT, POSSIBLY STILL CONFUSING.
"But I don't know if that's what we should be worried about." <-- BETTER.
"But I don't know if Bob being a monster is what should worry us." <-- REPARSED.
Review the colon, semicolon, dash/hyphen, and quotation marks at your favorite source for English study, as well. You'll likely be glad you did, because these are among the most often confused pieces of punctuation. Bone up on them. You'll thank yourself later.
Here's where we hit a lot of them, boys and girls. These are words that are often confused in either spelling or meaning. They're words that you might have a little trouble remembering from one to the other in the middle of a long writing piece. I'm going to rattle off a bunch of them, so try to keep as many of them in mind as you can when you're writing. Or hell, call this bit up if you feel the need to check. Works for me, I need the hits.
Accept - Accept is a verb meaning "to agree to"
or "to adapt to" or the like: ("Accept me as I am or not at all.")
Except - Except is a qualifying term, meaning more like "unless" or "with the exception of", or "excluding". ("Everyone except me went to the museum.")
- A bit of confusion here can be gotten by the fact that except could actually be used as a verb, although in most cases it could be filled better by some form of the word 'exclude'. Think of it this way: Accept is more allowing, as in into a commune. Except is exclusionary, as in leaving out. You accept new members into your group with open arms, but your criteria might be that everyone is welcome except those below the age of 18.
Affect - Affect is a verb, meaning, 'to
influence,' or 'to cause change in'. ("This may adversely affect her ability to move.")
Effect - Effect, on the other hand, is ordinarily a noun, and means 'a result'. ("What is the effect of this potion on her?")
- I see this one a lot, with people suggesting that something 'effects her in strange ways.' That's wrong. The effect of some stimulus may affect her in odd ways. The easiest way is to differentiate is to think of cause and effect. A cause is a noun. So is an effect. If it helps you to mentally pronounce effect with a long e at the beginning, and affect with a long a, do it. (Now here's where it gets loopy; be warned. Effect can be used as a verb with a meaning very close to affect, but with a notable difference: you affect a person, place or thing. You can effect only a condition or state of being, such as effecting a mannerism or a change in lifestyle. If that causes confusion, just forget I said it. You can find another word that's less confusing, like caused, or enacted.)
All Ready - All ready is a two word phrase that
means 'completely prepared.' ("Are we all ready to go?")
Already - Already is an adverb that means "By now," or "previously". ("He is already here, an hour ahead of time.")
- To be honest, this one isn't as hard as it looks, although a lot of people don't really use all ready as much anymore, except in certain dialects of English. Most people just use 'ready'. Already is much more in use, because there aren't any terms than 'at this moment' that really work as synonyms. Again, like I've suggested throughout, look at your sentence. If you can substitute 'prepared' for the term, it should be the two word all ready (or just ready). Otherwise, if you're referring to a period of time, it's already.
All Right - All right means 'safe or acceptable'
or, in some cases, 'yes.' ("I think it's all right to come out now."
"Be careful with that, all right?")
Alright - There is no such word as alright. This is a variant and disputed misspelling of "all right," (look it up!) brought about by the confusion of already for all ready.
- This one's not nearly so much a pet peeve, meaning I don't see it as often. And in some later dictionaries, alright is shown as a variant spelling (not misspelling) of all right. But even then, it should be used just in cases where it is basically replacing "yes?" or "get me?", or "you got that?" ("Follow me up and don't shoot anyone, alright?" ...and, yes, it still makes me want to grit my teeth to write that.) All right should be used at any other times, even so. ("Is everyone here all right?") Personally? I say throw Alright to the rubbish barrel. But that's me.
Base - Base means basic, simple, primal, or an
area of safety, among other things.
Bass - Bass is the opposite of treble, meaning a low, deep tone.
- I don't expect to have to go into detail on this one. No one talks about army basses or bass urges. And no one turns up the base on their stereos. If it's sound you're talking about, it's bass.
Capital - Capital can mean a plethora of
things. It can mean chief, or punishable by death (capital punishment).
It also means the chief city of a state or province or country, and a sum of
Capitol - Capitol means one thing and one thing only. The building in which a state, province or country legislature meets.
- This isn't a big pet peeve for me, and it doesn't hit our forms of fiction very often. Not many people want to talk about politicians becoming mannequins, robots or statues... go figure. But just remember. Capitol is the building. Capital is the city.
Cite - Cite is a verb, and means to mention, refer
to, or quote, as in a source. ("Jack will cite Roe vs. Wade
as a precedent in his argument.")
Sight - Sight is either a noun or verb, and refers to the use of vision, or something that is seen. ("God, you're a sight for sore eyes.")
Site - Site is always a noun, and refers to a location or position. (The site of a battle, a website)
- Again, not one I see a lot, except for people referring to a web sight. And that's not right. When you see the sights, you don't refer to seeing a place itself, but the objects-- buildings, historical landmarks, shops-- of a place. When you see a site, you see the place itself, and ordinarily that refers to a place that is no longer existent (The site of the ancient city of Troy) or a place that has not yet come about (the future site of a brand new McDonald's). And even in the internet-and IRC-slang-based clusterfucked world of today, site is NOT just a pretty way to spell sight, the way some people take to doing with nite and night.
Ensure - Ensure means, "to make certain".
("We'll try to ensure your happiness.")
Insure - Insure means, "to guard against risk or loss". ("We'll insure your package")
Assure - Assure means, "to make (one) confident of." ("We assure you, we only use the best quality robots")
- The top two of these are a little more interchangeable than a lot of people think. According to Associated Press style, to ensure that something happens is to make certain that it does, and to insure is to issue an insurance policy. Other authorities, however, consider ensure and insure interchangeable, although many of the English books I've read suggest that, to please conservatives, you make the distinction. Ensure are Assure also seem to be interchanged an awful lot, and there's no reason for it. You assure someone to instill confidence; it can be used in place of 'said' as a dialogue tag line... in other words, it can stand alone. You assure a person. ("She'll be all right," he assured me.) On the other end, ensure must take an object that is not personal... you can't ensure a person. You can only ensure a course of action, feeling, thought, or state of being... it's more abstract like that. ("Jack will ensure that the guards don't chase us." or "I will ensure that your pain is eternal," the torturer assured me.)
Holey - Holey means 'full of holes.' Simple.
Holy - Holy means 'sacred, held to a high level.'
Wholly - Wholly means 'completely, totally.'
- Another that doesn't come up often. But I admit to sometimes being confused enough to reparse my sentences to end with 'full of holes' because I can't get it through my head that holey is a word, too. If you're referring to socks, you likely mean holey, unless you're referring to Jesus', or Buddha's, or the often-unnamed new-age-style Goddess' socks (or whatever benign deity you ascribe to, if one applies), I guess. Then it could be holey or holy. Just don't use either of those to mean 'totally'.
It's - It's is a contraction of the words "it
is". ("It's going to rain today.")
Its - Its is a possessive form of it; meaning, belonging to it. ("See that drink? Look at its color.")
- I see this one more often than I can count, and really, there's an easy way around it. Just look at your sentence and see if you can substitute "it is" for the word in question. If you can, you want to use the apostrophe form, it's. On the other hand, it would sound silly to say "Watch the cat play with it is tail." That being the case, you're speaking possessive. That means its.
Lay and Lie (to recline)
Set and Sit
- There are sources a lot better at separating these than I ever could be; check them out at the Links page of the English Chick, or at Bartleby.com. The problem seems to arise when it comes to the past tense of these verbs, which tend to sound alike. I have thrown together a quick conjugation guide to help you out, though. God, aren't you lucky!? Don't forget: Lay means to place someone or something (don't be confused by the slanguism "I'd like to lay so-and-so"), and lie means to recline, as in lie down. Set also means to place something or someone, and sit means to assume a seated position. You don't sit something on a shelf, nor do you lie carpet.
|Present||Present Perfect||Past||Past Perfect|
I, You, We, They
|lie||have lain||lay||had lain|
He, She, It
|lie||has lain||lay||had lain|
|Present||Present Perfect||Past||Past Perfect|
I, You, We, They
|lay||have laid||laid||had laid|
He, She, It
|lay||has laid||laid||had laid|
|Present||Present Perfect||Past||Past Perfect|
I, You, We, They
|set||have set||set||had set|
He, She, It
|set||has set||set||had set|
|Present||Present Perfect||Past||Past Perfect|
I, You, We, They
|sit||have sat||sat||had sat|
He, She, It
|sit||has sat||sat||had sat|
Simple enough, hey? Thought so. And now, back to
There - There means 'that place'. It never refers to a person. ("Let's go there.")
Their - Their is the possessive form of they. It refers to something owned by them. ("Grab their weapons, and see if any of them have valuables.")
They're - They're is a contraction of the words "they are." ("They're not wearing any underwear.")
- This one is a lot like it's and its above, only it's a little more confusing, in that there is another word that can get confused in the mix. Again, half of the problem can be alleviated right away by reading over the sentence and seeing if 'they are' would fill the place where your mystery word is, with no loss of readability. If you can, you're looking at they're. If not, decide whether you're speaking about a possession or a place. A possession is their. A place is there. For mass confusion, here's a sentence that will give you nightmares. They're going to turn in their guns at the amnesty gathering there. But if you look at it closely, you'll see if's not all that tough. They are going to turn in the guns that belong to them at the amnesty gathering at that place.
To - to has various meanings, and is most often
used as a preposition (in the direction of, toward, as in, "We'll go to
Frank's house"), or to case-mark an infinitive phrase. ("To be or
not to be")
Too - too means "also," or "as well", (as in "Let me go, too.") or is a qualifying expression meaning, vaguely, "more than enough" ("No, you're too small, too young and too uneducated.")
Two - Two is the number designated by the Arabic glyph 2. ("I had two women at once.")
- If I have to explain this one, you're in some pretty significant trouble. Look at your sentence closely. Are you speaking of a number of items? You likely mean two. As for the other ones? A good rule of thumb is this. If the word the too/to is referring to or modifying is an adjective or adverb (Too much, too little, too sexy, too careful), or you mean "as well," you mean too. If it's a noun (especially if it's a place!) or a verb, you likely want to. (to the zoo, to bed, to go, to eat.)
Vice - A vice refers to an evil or form of wickedness.
("Sex is a nasty vice, but without it, where would we be?")
Vise - Vise is a sort of clamp; a tool for holding. ("He held the plans in a grip like a vise.")
- You'd be surprised how many people miss this one. Me, for one. The easiest way to distinguish is to remember Miami Vice or the Vice Squads. They'd all look pretty silly running around with vise grips, wouldn't they? To be completely honest, as I said, I missed this one completely on several occasions. If this is your worst faux-pas, you're pretty damned well off.
Who's - Who's is a contraction for "who is".
("Who's going to the party?")
Whose - Whose is a possessive pronoun meaning "belonging to who or whom" ("Whose house is the party at?")
You're - You're is a contraction of the words
"you are." ("You're okay, aren't you?")
Your - Your refers to a possession belonging to you. ("Just follow your nose.")
- Like They're and Their, and It's and Its, these is two more that are easy enough, if you just take the time out to read the sentence without using the contraction. Substitute you are or who is for the term and see if it makes sense. Try it here. "You're/your not leaving you're/your purse here, when we don't know who's/whose going to come by and look through it, are you?" The first one makes perfect sense if you change it to you are. That should be you're. The second one sounds silly as you are. It means "the purse belonging to you," right? So it should be your. The last one is the same way as the first. We don't know who is going to come by. That should be the contraction who's. The proper sentence should read "You're not going to leave your purse here, when we don't know who's going to come by, are you?" A lot of these problems between contractions and possessive pronouns can be very easily alleviated if you look over your sentence and read it like Data would say it. Leave out the contractions and see if you have it right.
These are just a few word confusion nits. And yes, in some cases, they do sound nitpicky. But if you can be nitpicky and find your errors, other people don't have to be, and you don't detract from your story whatsoever. And that's what you want, isn't it? Course you do! So let's go on...
STYLE AND FORMATTING:
Now, we jump from what your words actually say to how your story actually looks. How many times have you tried to read a story and found the background clashing in the way that makes certain lines illegible? How many times have you gone to read fanfic to find the whole story to be six to eight lines long and scrolling across the page horizontally to the point you have to use the bottom scrollbar just to see the rest of the words that don't display on screen? How many times have you seen someone forget to bracket their italics in HTML and ended up with an entire bottom half of the story in italics? These are things that I lovingly call "Bits that make Argo decide a story isn't worth his trouble." And likely, other readers do too. So here are some things to keep in mind. First off, keep in mind the format you're using, which should be based upon either your choice OR the guidelines suggested by the place you're submitting to. (ALWAYS keep the place you're submitting to in mind. Webmasters have enough to do without reformatting your story to fit their format style.)
For most places, the format of choice is HTML. And really, there are no excuses for not using HTML these days. It's not difficult; not at all. I even went out of my way to give a quick tutorial to HTML for people that use the Medusa Chronicles Addventure here. As long as you keep your bracketing ( <> ) and paragraph breaks ( <P> ) straight, it's not at all hard to remember. If you want to try your hand at it, Arachnophilia, Stone's Web Writer, HTML Plus and Coffee Cup are all available for free or at the most, with a nag screen, on the web, and each offers a preview view to gander at your HTML before you post it so you can tweak mistakes in formatting.
And if you don't want to try it because "Oh my god, it's too much to remember," stop whining, WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get) HTML editors are so easily downloadable that it's not even funny, so you don't have the excuse that you don't know HTML any more. This entire list of nits is being done in Front Page XP, which does both, allows you to type the WYSIWYG version or compose HTML tags; if you don't have the money for it, Netsc(r)ape is available for free and comes with Composer. Download.com also has several hundred HTML editors, and a good portion of them are WYSIWYG. Even Microsoft Word allows for saving into HTML format these days (although I don't personally suggest it, because it uses specialized Microsoft D-HTML that doesn't always translate to all browsers and is a bitch to tweak in anything other than Microsoft Word).
But assume you don't want to bother with HTML, or your place of submission doesn't accept it? That's fine. Lots of folks don't use HTML; and there are a lot of other choices as far as formats go. A lot of people still post in plain text (TXT format), and advances in MSIE allow it to work in conjunction with Microsoft Word to read RTF and DOC files off the web. So these are all acceptable substitutes.
Some things you should keep in mind, no matter what format you use, however:
COLOR SCHEME AND BACKGROUND:
As some of you who have followed my pages (including the current World of Phantasie page, its predecessor, Darker Age (not that you'd admit to seeing it), and the old Hall of Statuary) probably know, I prefer a dark scheme to my pages, meaning usually a black or dark-hued background, and got very few complaints. Dark's not for everyone, I know. The important thing to remember as far as the pages themselves go, is remember to do something with HIGH CONTRAST. This is a hint for all of you who have Light Blue pages with Yellow lettering or dark grey on black. It does not show up well. If people have to search for your reading material, they likely won't read it with nearly the enjoyment they might otherwise. Is that suggesting to keep to a simple black-on-white? Oh, no. Not even. But in general, try to stay away from mid-tones altogether, if you can. Keep to dark fonts on light background, or vice-versa, if you can. Your audience will be more thankful in the long run. It's a lot easier on the eyes.
The same holds true for background pictures. Generally, I suggest staying away from them for two reasons. One, you have less control over the color shading of a picture; therefore, there is more chance that your story can get caught in the background of that marvelous rainbow picture you've set up for the background of your story. And that blows heinous elephant nads. Second, if you're like me, you have likely done searches on Google for stories, and maybe have even used their Cache setting to quickly look-up or highlight key terms. Guess what happens when you do that on a page at Angelfire or Tripod and it tries to load up a background image? You get this nauseous BRIGHT white background filled with Angelfire or Tripod logos that blot out the story altogether.
Personally, I suggest a high contrast background with no background images. Leave the image-background pages for those leading up to your story, and let your story either provide the 'artwork' or embed images within the story itself (this likely requires work with HTML) if you're more interested in a 'graphic novel' format. That's just me, though.
This is a lot more subjective area. I tend to use small fonts, at either size 2 or 3 (10 point or 12 point), just because I tend to ramble on a lot and like a lot to appear on-screen. That's not for everyone, I know. I also, for reasons I can't yet begin to comprehend, have a heady dislike for Times New Roman and Courier New. Don't know why, I just do. They never flew with me. Times New at small sizes just tended to blend on some of my old screens, and when I worked with Word, other fonts like France, Garamond and Book Antiqua, just stood out a little better to my eyes. I was told once by someone that for greatest clarity among different machines, TNR, Arial and Courier New were really my only choices of fonts, however. So now, having learned much more, I hereby say, long and loud:
Windows users are the highest percentage of users on the web (and to be bluntly honest, no offense, but Mac and Linux users never really change my mode of thinking, partially because quite often, they're spending much of their time trying to find reasons why they can justify not having a windows-based OS with all the software variety and compatibility it entails.). I know, as well, that Win users have a variety of fonts already inlaid into their system pretty much since Win 95 came about, which includes (among others) Arial, Book Antiqua, Bookman, Impact, Comic Sans, Symbol and Verdana and that those translate to Mac for the most part, as well. So I tend to stick with those for my stories, with these two caveats. First, when I write, my font choice tends to reflect the tone of the piece I'm writing. In other words, I tend to stick to Book Antiqua for more fantasy and history-themed pieces, and Arial, Verdana, TNR or Comic Sans for my non-fic and contemporary stuff. Second, if I have to use something different, I make sure that font is readily available for public use... i.e., if the downloaded file permits it, I offer the file to other readers, or at worst clue them in where the proper font can be found.
Choice is yours. But what I was told does hold bearing. Putting together a piece done in this groovy font you came across on the web means jack if your readers don't have that same font. Embedded fonts don't even work that way, sad to say.
Now, switching fonts in mid-stream? That can be done, and done well, as long as you keep the above in mind. Got it? Good.
Let me just say this. Don't get me started. Paragraph stops or breaks are absolutely necessary to keep people from wanting to strike you, repeatedly, with the first thing that comes to their grasp, be it blunt or edged. Even the best story looks like genuine crap when there's no breaks to allow the readers to find their spots. It's intimidating to some readers. It's unnerving to other readers. It's teeth-grinding to editors. It's as simple as finding what makes a paragraph stop or break in whatever format you use. It's not a style thing to write all your text in block format with no breaks whatsoever for changes of pace or scene or dialogue, it's every bit as bad as TYPING EVERYTHING IN ALL CAPS. If you don't want the big lines between your text, at least do all of us that read a lot on the computer a favor and be kind enough to use TAB stops to introduce paragraphs. I did that in all my Darker Age fiction, using line breaks instead of paragraph breaks, and tabbing five spaces for the next paragraph. And yes, I know. My stuff was still unwieldy due to sheer size. Could you imagine this whole list of drek with no paragraph breaks?
Well, no, because I won't show it to you. Nyeah.
If you have a problem figuring what constitutes a paragraph, I've given you two links already. Englishchick.com and Bartleby.com, both of which have several links, in their own pages, to rules of English and proper formatting. Hit them. Learn what a paragraph is, learn where paragraphs give way to new paragraphs, and for the love of whatever deity you hold dear, use them. Go, now. Look. Learn. Do.
TEXT OFF THE PAGE
This one is solely for people who format in text only (TXT files) format. Please, please, please, look at your story in some sort of text viewer (Notepad, Wordpad, whatever) and make sure your text wraps to the screen. Nothing is quite as intimidating as block paragraphs with no breaks or tabs, unless it's seeing what appears to be a very short story that is really thirty pages because it scrolls off the screen sideways. Make sure that you save your text as Text with Line Breaks, or MS-Dos Text with Line Breaks, or something that allows for line breaks and wraps to the screen, because good lord, that will usually make me hit the back button faster than seeing a picture of Gertrude Stein and Bea Arthur in a celebrity porn video.
Okay, we've hit everything else in Argo's "pet peeves", many of which aren't really pet peeves at all, but things that can get your readers to think a little less of you as a writer, that will get you taken less seriously, that breach your goal in providing an entertaining story that lets the reader forget he or she spends his or her days at home with two screaming kids or lives a boring, mundane existence. We've talked about misconstrued words, formatting problems, and touched on punctuation and the like. And we've probably gotten you irked at me once or twice, in the process. (Hey, that's what being a social pariah and writer is all about, isn't it?) But we haven't touched upon the actual content of the story yet. We haven't gotten to things like plot and character and setting and description that are the crux of your story.
The following is just a by-list that I've come up with, and it's totally subjective. These are a sampling of my own personal ideas that I think are a little played out, or have become almost comedic with their repetition. You don't need to feel constrained by it, or even read it, especially if I've already torqued you. But these are a sampling of the sort of thing I see in stories (keep in mind I don't often read robot stories... they're just not so much my thing) that I just think are slightly overused, tired, trite, clichéd, or just plain played-out in ASFR fiction. Again, this is a subjective list... if you've read some of my earlier tutorials, you've probably seen a lot of these before, and you'll likely see them again.
Things that I think I could stand to see a lot more of, as far as story content goes.
Okay, that's probably more than enough for now. But hopefully, this gives you a few ideas, here and there. Remember, these latest few bits are subjective. But as far as the others, only you can make people want to read your stories as soon as they hit the web. Start with the basics, and work up from there, and remember that the basics mean good English and formatting, as well as the plot, characters, setting, dialogue and description. I'll be back soon, with a brand new tutorial.
Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, and maybe we'll have a slew of questions for our next tutorial. Or maybe something else entirely. Give me a buzz.
Till then, keep writing!